Sorry, I couldn’t resist the headline.
In case you missed it, Hollywood Director Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy, Dogma) was bounced from a Southwest Airline flight for being too fat. This happened on Saturday when Smith was on stand-by for a flight from Oakland to Burbank. He was boarded and seated, but then removed when the airline crew determined that Smith was too big for his seat.
Here’s Southwest’s explanation (via its blog Nuts About Southwest):
“When the time came to board Mr. Smith, we had only a single seat available for him to occupy. We are responsible for the Safety and comfort of all Customers on the aircraft and therefore, we made a judgment call that Mr. Smith needed more than one seat to complete his flight. Our Employees explained why the decision was made, accommodated Mr. Smith on a later flight, and issued him a $100 Southwest travel voucher for his inconvenience.
You’ve read about these situations before. Southwest instituted our Customer of Size policy more than 25 years ago. The policy requires passengers that can not fit safely and comfortably in one seat to purchase an additional seat while traveling.”
Needless to say being removed from a public flight because you’re too fat is humiliating, especially when you’re an easily recognized celebrity. So no doubt Smith decided to strike first (probably before one of the celebrity gossip blogs could break it) by tweeting about it on Twitter.
His first tweet on the matter: “Dear Southwest – I know I’m fat, but was Captain Leysath really justified in throwing me off a flight for which I was already seated?”
After that he went on an epic tweak-out filled with rage, humor, profanity, and frustration directed at Southwest and its surprisingly large number of defenders. His Twitter rant has gone on for nearly 72 hours, including gems like:
“Sometimes it baffles me how little people think things through. “Free publicity!” = 200 new articles declaring I’m fat. Yay, me. Epic win.”
The gossip blog Gawker has a lot more.
Did Southwest make a mistake in removing Smith? That’s clearly debatable (and they probably would not have done it if they realized he was a popular Hollywood director with a Twitter following of more than 1.6 million fans).
But the amazing thing about this story – at least from a PR and social media perspective – is how fast Southwest responded and how much goodwill they have gotten in return. It was a textbook case for how corporations should deal with a social media crisis. While there was no way this story was going to be quashed because of who Kevin Smith is – Southwest never took a wait and see attitude or tried to hide.
They quickly issued an apology via Twitter – and engaged directly with Smith. They called him to apologize in person and have written two blog posts about the matter.
And it worked. While there are certainly many Smith fans outraged at the airline for removing their idol – there are plenty of other people who have sided with Southwest.
This from Mashable: “Southwest’s use of social media in addressing the situation could be said to be commendable.”
And Southwest’s Facebook page was filled with sentiments like this: “Please don’t apologize to Kevin Smith, Southwest! I’m a skinny mini and I cannot tell you the number of flights where I have had less than 1/2 of my seat because someone else was in the rest of it.”
Why is Southwest getting the benefit of the doubt? Because they have been an enthusiastic and active participant in social media for a long time. Look at their social media assets:
- A Twitter account with more than a million followers
- A Facebook page with more than 761,000 fans
- A YouTube channel with more than 55,000 views
- A Flickr account with more than 800 members
- A blog – the a fore mentioned Nuts About Southwest – that averages 55,000 views per month
Southwest understands social media and uses social media. And they believe in its power and effectiveness.
And this dedication to social media is now paying off in a crisis. This is a lesson for ALL companies.