Until this weekend, Southwest Airlines was the same consumer-friendly air carrier it's always been, cheap flights, singing flight attendants and all. It's the company whose commercials showcase folks in awkward situations, the theme being: Wanna get away?
Today, thanks to a fat celebrity with twitchy thumbs, Southwest knows that feeling all too well.
Director Kevin Smith, the auteur behind such comedies as Clerks, Chasing Amy and Dogma, stirred up controversy on Saturday when he was asked to leave a Southwest flight from Oakland to Burbank, Calif. The reason? He was too fat.
Smith normally has a sense of humor about his weight — he once joked in an interview about breaking a toilet — but this time, he didn't think he was to blame. He'd originally purchased two side-by-side seats, but when he was bumped up to an earlier flight, only one was available. After initially allowing Smith to board, the flight crew decided he posed a "safety concern," and sent him back to the terminal.
So Smith did what many aggrieved consumers do these days: He turned to Twitter.
In a series of 140-character missives, he thumbed out a protest of the crew's decision, saying he "broke no regulation, offered no 'safety risk' (what, was I gonna roll on a fellow passenger?)." When he managed to get a seat on a different Southwest flight, he photographed himself sneering at the camera. Neener neener, his expression read. Look at Fat Boy now.
The image-conscious folks at Southwest acted swiftly to combat the PR damage, offering a "heartfelt apology" to Smith on the airline's blog. But on the Internet, bad news always spreads faster than good; by Monday, the Wikipedia page for Southwest already had a section titled "Kevin Smith controversy." And as far as the Net is concerned, once it's on Wikipedia, brother, it's gospel.
The irony here is that there's a good reason Smith was flying Southwest in the first place. It's the airline of the common man, the traveler for whom price trumps all. Smith makes movies about convenience store clerks, comic book artists, civil servants, drug dealers and fast food fryer jockeys. He's one of the more down-to-earth celebrities out there, a longtime blogger and popular tweeter whose lengthy Q&A sessions with fans are the stuff of fanboy legend.
There's little doubt Smith will continue to fly Southwest, as will his fans. But this escapade — and the funny, self-deprecating way in which Smith handled it — will further endear him to his fanatical base. And let's be honest: Is Smith really going to shy away from all this extra publicity when he's got a new movie, Cop Out, coming out in a couple of weeks?
Strike another victory for the littl — er, big guy.
Times staff writer Jay Cridlin can be reached at email@example.com.