Kevin Smith v. Southwest Airlines : Getting The Real Skinny

Kevin Smith knew he'd get hammered when he went public with this. He went ahead and did it anyway. God bless him for it.
04/22/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Kevin Smith's "Too Fat to Fly" story has come and gone, making the new media route: tweets live from Kevin after being thrown off a Southwest Airlines flight to blog posts on the Southwest Airlines website to articles and op-ed pieces and (of course) a ton of comments with opinions ranging from outrage to sympathy to 'he deserved it' to a good deal of outright anger towards overweight people.

But one thing missing from a lot of this are the actual facts of the story. Kevin himself seems to have put the issue behind him. He did the very un-celebrity like thing of actually turning down an appearance on the Larry King show. This is an issue as much about consumer rights as Kevin Smith. A quick fact check is in order.

Kevin did do a wrap-up on his 'Smodcast' podcast and in a series of short YouTube videos. Watching them, I was reminded of Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks, two other controversial comic geniuses who spent time defending themselves, frustrated by an inability to get the truth out there. Undoubtedly, Kevin Smith would be the first person to say that this comparison isn't warranted and I'm not saying it's a direct analogy. In his last days, Bruce took to the stage reading court papers. Hicks was angry after having a segment censored by the David Letterman show. Ultimately Lenny and Bill were right. (Years after Bill Hicks's death, Letterman finally apologized to his mother.)

What's the truth on Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines?

Kevin Smith did not violate Southwest Airlines policy.

This is really the crux of the matter. In short, Kevin Smith was not "too fat to fly" according to Southwest own policies. Here's the policy, directly from the pornographically named "Customer of Size Policy"...

What is the definitive gauge for a customer of size?
The armrest is the definitive gauge for a customer of size. It serves as the boundary between seats and measures 17 inches in width. Customers who are unable to lower both armrests and/or who compromise any portion of adjacent seating should proactively book the number of seats needed prior to travel.

Kevin was able to get both armrests down in a middle seat and wasn't "blubbering over or under " on either side. Neither of the women seated next to him complained either.
So that's really the only relevant point here -- Kevin Smith was unfairly removed from a Southwest Airlines flight in direct violation of their own stated policy. That's somehow been lost in the shuffle: Southwest Airlines was wrong. Full stop.

Southwest Airlines lied and said the pilot asked Smith to be removed.

Smith himself reported this in his initial tweets, because that's what Southwest told him. They told him this because even though Smith wasn't violating the written "Customer of Size Policy," that policy itself can be overridden by pilot discretion. In other words, Smith wasn't violating the rule, but they needed an excuse to kick them off so they blamed the pilot.

The problem with that story is the pilot never saw Smith, who was seated and then removed in the space of a minute or two. Smith says that Southwest later admitted it wasn't the pilot's call, except insofar as the plane was running late and the pilot was trying to expedite take off.

Smith wasn't doing this for a publicity stunt.

As Kevin said, "This is an argument that only a thin person would make."

Kevin Smith certainly has other ways to get PR and as I mentioned, he turned down an appearance on Larry King show even though his film Cop Out opens in theaters on February 26. He easily could have made the media rounds, pimped his film and tossed off a bunch of funny one-liners about his experience. Instead, he seems reticent to even make normal media appearances to promote the film.

I'll be blunt here -- Kevin Smith has lost members of this family due to obesity and diabetes. When I interviewed him a year ago, he talked about how Cop Out (at that time called A Couple of Dicks) was a film that his father would've enjoyed and that he wished his father was around to see it.

So, being fat is something that Smith jokes about himself, but it's no laughing matter. This story has been embarrassing to Smith, but not more humiliating than the actual act of being unfairly removed from a flight for being "too fat to fly." Smith also felt empathy when he saw another passenger removed from a flight and went out of his way to give her air time as well.

Kevin Smith knew he'd get hammered when he went public with this. He went ahead and did it anyway. God bless him for it.