Southwest savior deals with obnoxious customer — no slide necessary

by Janice Hough on August 13, 2010


The airwaves and the internet are full of stories of the fed-up JetBlue flight attendant, who may or may not not be a hero to passengers and anyone in the customer service business who don’t want to take it any more.

Actually, flight attendants normally can deal with obnoxious passengers without quite as much drama.

Here’s a story from Consumer Traveler reader Stephanie Magid, about a Southwest flight attendant who took less drastic measures.

As she said, Southwest is a straightforward airline: “You want a better seat, you pay your $10 dollars, and you’re moved up in the line. I like this because I have to have an aisle seat. No explanations needed. That’s it.”

Here’s the story that has made Stephanie a loyal Southwest flyer for life.

“I was having a nice chat with the elderly lady in the window seat in my row. Next thing I know, this large woman pointed at the middle seat and asked to sit there. As she was sitting, she commented that she would have to lose weight before the next flight. Well, as soon as she sat down I knew that this wasn’t going to be a match.

I am very allergic to perfumes and just about anything that is scented. She was wearing a fragrance that I knew would make me sick in 10 minutes, let alone the 4 hour flight ahead of us.

Very politely, and I do mean “politely‘, I told her of my sensitivities and asked that she please choose another seat on the plane, as her fragrance would make me ill.

Now mind you, I had seen the woman already change seats once on this flight already, and it hadn’t even left the gate. (And there were a number of other middle seats left on the plane.)

With that, she informed me that she wasn’t moving and that I should move instead. In fact, she thought that I should switch my aisle seat for her husband‘s middle seat. Fat chance! I refused to move. This really got her going.
 
She started ranting that I was a ***** for not moving and that she didn‘t care if I got sick. It was all my fault and that she didn’t stink–which was a word I may have thought of but never used.

Mind you, everyone within five rows on the plane heard her tirades. I just sat and kept my mouth closed, once the flight attendant took note of what was transpiring.

The lady in the window seat, who must have been close to 90, then got involved and told the woman to move. and stop causing trouble. Bless her heart. But middle seat lady wouldn’t listen to anyone, she just kept on ranting and refusing to move.

Next thing a woman in the row ahead of us, got out of her window seat, crawled across both people in her row and exited the plane. I figured she was probably sick from all of the haranguing and just had to get off of the plane. I was sure getting there myself, thinking about sitting next to this crazy person for 4 hours.

I heard the word supervisor mentioned by the flight attendant. Next thing I knew there was a serious looking woman in a Southwest uniform approaching my row. She looked directly at the woman making all the commotion and calmly asked her to step outside to speak with her.

The middle seat woman asked if I was going with them. The supervisor said that she only needed to talk to her. As the woman exited the plane with the supervisor, her husband got up to follow them out. When he returned to the plane, he grabbed their carry-on luggage out of the overhead, looked directly at me with a death wish and said ,”It’s all your fault, *****.”

Well, I knew they weren’t coming back. Hallelujah, I was saved. All of the passengers around me breathed a sigh of relief. No one had ever experienced anything like that before.

It turns out the lady in the row ahead who had left the plane, was a Southwest employee who heard the entire thing, knew the supervisor, and went out to tell her what had happened.

From there Southwest did its job. Which was to remove a passenger who was disruptive, argumentative, loud and just plain rude. In addition, she called me a bad name — which I heard is the tipping point. I am just glad that I sat there and didn’t escalate the situation.

I learned a valuable lesson today. Being rude and disruptive gets you kicked off a flight. Taking the high road gets you a nice calm flight home, a free drink coupon, (courtesy of my Southwest savior), not to mention the support of fellow passengers, who would never want to be in your shoes.”

Stephanie’s story had a happy ending, well, except for the two people who presumably either were asked to leave the plane or change to a different flight. It certainly sounds like this was a pretty unambiguous case of a passenger being completely out of line.

It gets more complicated when two passengers get into an argument and it’s hard to tell who is at fault, or if the jerk is an elite status flier. (And yes, flight attendants do get a manifest so that they know who gives their airline a LOT of business.)

But in this case, some Southwest employees clearly won a lot of fans on this flight. And they didn’t even have to open the emergency exit.

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  • sue

    I’m not sure I entirely agree with who is the obnoxious passenger here – obviously one passenger shouldn’t curse out another passenger, but is there some kind of rule on Southwest that if another passenger asks you to move, you are obligated to do so? This is the kind of story that makes me avoid Southwest, because I’ve always thought their seating concept sounded chaotic. There is an important middle part left out of this, about the OP’s response to the other passenger’s refusal to move. The OP asked politely for this woman who had already moved once, presumably to accommodate another passenger, to move, the woman said no, and suggested that the OP switch seats with her husband. It sounds like from there, the OP didn’t take no for an answer and tried to insist that the woman move, which angered the woman and she responded with by cursing. I think both of these passengers were in the wrong, and that the OP instigated the incident.

  • Kevin

    I really don’t feel for the person relating the story.

    First of all, what does the woman’s weight have to do with anything? Sounds like a bias right off the bat.

    Second, if you are the one with the sensitivity, maybe YOU are the one that should move.

    Yes, it sounds like there was some inappropriate freaking out, but I don’t think “getting my way” is the same thing as “southwest doing their job”.

  • http://msn jbfrombremerton

    Good for Stephanie and Southwest for having patience and conviction about these two inconsiderate and foul-mouthed people. I hope Southwest flags the offenders and blacklists them from flying Southwest for a year or two.
    Bad for Sue for being unwilling or unable to see who was the clear offender in this situation. I would hope Sue experiences a miserable seatmate on her next flight and then let’s see how sympathetic she is towards the offenders. I fly frequently and have been on the receiving end several times and it is not pleasant. Perhaps Steven Slater’s outburst (which went too far) will give all airlines a wake-up call as to the handling of uncooperative passengers and the backbone to do something about them.

  • Mindy

    I have a feeling the story isn’t quite as straightforward as Ms. Magid would have us believe.

    “As she was sitting, she commented that she would have to lose weight before the next flight”

    Huh.. what did this have to do with the story? Does the fact that the woman is overweight add to her “obnoxious” description? Does it further aggravate her “sensitivity to scents”… or just, as I suspect, further annoy Ms. Magid?

    So, what should the overperfumed fat chick do? Go from middle seat to middle seat to find someone who is not aggravated by her?

    I agree that the middle seat passenger should never have resorted to name calling. However, I don’t know that Stephanie didn’t really deserve it. After all, the seats are not assigned. No person should have to move to accommodate the sensitivities of others. Sorry, this is Southwest Airlines… your $10 does not guarantee you anything but a earlier spot in line.

  • jonathan

    @sue: refusing to move from a seat isn’t what caused the woman’s removal; the disruptive behavior and bad language were the “tipping point”.

    I once refused to move to a middle seat, near the back of the plane, from my bulkhead aisle, to accommodate an obnoxious family. I said “no”, and not another word. The family became so disruptive, THEY were removed from the flight. I, who had refused to move, but kept silent, had a wonderful stress-free 4 hours.

  • Jennifer

    Actually, Sue, what I got out of it was that she was just going to suffer. Once the stinky woman got nasty with her she just kept her mouth closed. Didn’t push anymore. As a person who suffers from the same allergy, I can relate. Unfortunately, it’s something we can’t do anything about. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to suffer b/c you can’t ask someone to take a shower b/c their perfume annoys you. I think Stephanie did the right thing by asking her question politely. She had to make a choice – sit and suffer with the fumes or sit and suffer in a middle seat. If it was me and the woman had been nicer, I would have moved to the middle seat and let her husband sit with her…but since she wasn’t, I probably would have stayed, too. I also would have made sure if the smell made me sick that I threw up all over the woman.

    That said, when you know you’re going to be on a plane and sitting with others in close quarters, please go lightly on the perfume…you’re really only supposed to put on a little anyway. You shouldn’t leave a vapor trail behind you.

  • Louise

    Once, when Dr. Joyce Brothers found herself sitting next to a man who was smoking (in the bad old days), she asked him politely to stop because it made her ill. He refused. She said that if he didn’t stop smoking, she would throw up. He didn’t. She did. All over him.

  • Drew

    Wow.. a lot of comments on this… and yeah, I’ve got to put my $0.02 in as well…

    Personally, if I’m going to be traveling with my wife (Let me say that I’m a very frequent business traveler… Platinum on two airlines, Gold on a third), which is only about 2-3% of the time that I travel, I’m going to make sure that we sit together, even if that costs a bit more or if we have to get to the airport a bit earlier (granted, we don’t live near a Southwest city, so…)! If I were Miss Smelly-Obnoxious (or her husband, for that matter), I would’ve ponied up the $20 to get on earlier and find a seat together (unless, of course, _he_ can’t stand her either, which is a different story altogether!)… They didn’t, so they get what they get…

    I’ve been asked before by other passengers to give up my seat… if the request is phrased nicely, and I can tell that it’s not just them being lazy/stupid/cheap/etc that has gotten them separated, then I usually give it up, depending on the circumstances… I know that some folks are going to take offense at this, but the way I feel is that with technology so available, there’s no reason in this day and age for you to get to the airport and not know roughly where you’re seated or if you’re seated together (yeah, I know that there are exceptions–missed/cancelled flights, equipment changes, etc!)… You can even _call_ and get your seats changed on most airlines…

    Back to the subject–we’ll never know the entire story… the OP will never fess up if she _was_ rude (not that she was, but she’ll never say if she was or not!)–just that it was a happy ending for her. I applaud the SW employee for doing the right thing and removing a situation before it could’ve gotten nastier!

  • Carlos

    Sounds like that horrible fat lady got what she deserved! Maybe next time she’ll think twice before opening her fat mouth and swearing at a fellow passenger. Hopefully Southwest will ban her so she can lose some weight and actually fit in the middle seat.

  • sue

    @jbfrombremerton – okay but I won’t have a bad experience, honestly, because I am not the kind of person who wishes bad experiences on someone just because they have a different opinion. Seriously, the OP uses a lot of loaded language which does paint a certain picture, but the underlying message here is that she wanted to have three seats with the nice ninety year old woman (yeah, she was probably 60 but whatever) and this large, smelly woman sat down and the OP “politely” made her unwelcome. I too am truly sensitive to scents, but I would have in this case measured whether it was more important to have an aisle seat or a scent free experience. If I asked her to move and she refused, there wouldn’t have been an opportunity to fight because I would have dropped it.

    From the other perspective – the “scented woman” should not have lost her temper. Much better revenge would have been to be politely and quietly refuse to move and not be goaded to respond to further requests. And then use the armrest the whole flight. But she didn’t do that.

    Bottom line. This story confirms why I’ll never fly Southwest. Apparently, paying $10 to get an aisle seat entitles you to have right of first refusal on who sits in the middle seat.

  • Tony A

    Interesting! Very Interesting!! Any double about the situation, try taking a 4hr. flight with an overwieght person next to you. Now add the scent issue. Thanks Southwest for your resolution.

  • http://consumertraveler Stephanie

    Hi Folks,

    Just to clarify a few points for the discussion. The OP left a perfectly nice bulkhead seat first. That didn’t suit her. By the time she got to my row–she was already in a p**** mood and angry because she couldn’t get a seat next to her husband, who was sitting in the middle seat in the row behind my row.
    She’s the one who commented about her weight. I was only the messanger. She wasn’t that big!

    It was a full flight and everyone knew that all seats would be filled, including me. In fact, after the OP was kicked off, a flight attendant who was catching a ride home in the jump seat in back, moved up into our row, and we had a perfectly delightful trip home discussing the incident.

    I fly quite a bit and have never experienced being treated by another passenger this way. I have always been polite, but I will not sit there and be abused by another passenger without seeking help.

    In addition, I have to have an aisle seat due to a medical issue and had paid extra to have the privilege to board the plane earlier to make sure that I got one!
    So that’s the rest of the story! Hope that none of you find yourself in the same postion! As if flying isn’t stressful enough!

  • barbara

    Stephanie, boy you are rich. You had every right to the aisle seat as you had paid for it, However, you have no business asking a passenger to relocate because of her perfume. You are on Southwest, not even a legacy airline. You should have been the one to approach the FA. I would have been inclined to give you a mouthful if you had asked me to move. I only hope someone with a very pungent submarine is your next seatmate.

  • Bruton

    This really is a perfect example of the result of Airlines wars over pricing, and the resulting jamming of people into seating that is totally inadequate for today’s sizable average people.
    I am a not overweight but I am a big male. Putting me into the average airline economy seat is to have whomever I sit beside share their eat with me. When you consider that more than half of Americans are OBESE, and most of the other half are pushing the overweight and oversize category, one wonders how we have avoided these “rage” situations occurring on every flight.
    The perfume is simply an example of one person having absolutely no concern for other people particularly in a crowded shoulder to shoulder environment. People should know by now that wearing perfumed products of any type when entering a public place is not fair to others who will certainly will be affected by those odors.
    I wish that airlines would institute a larger seat section. When you book in at the airport there should be an economy seat right there. If you can not show that you can sit in that sample seat without hanging over the edges you will be required to pay for the larger seat.
    Never going to happen I know, so get ready to jam yourself in with the rest of us and hope for little old ladies to be seated on both sides of you.

  • Robert Henderson

    It is best to keep your mouth shut as much as possible …I was the “large” passenger who sat next to a very agitated passenger. She had a bad cold which was more offensive to me. There were only two seats..I had the aisle ..she had the window. I was no where near into her space but she took the opportunity to immediately complain to the attendants about my size. I had a reserved booked aisle seat..I alwyas leanin to the aisle to make sure I am not in anyone’s space. Apparently she had been complaining even before I got there..she finally went in the back of the plane to continue to complain…I was most worried about catching her cold or flu or whatever it was. I kept my mouth shut (which trust me is not my nature)…this could only end in good for me..which it did..they moved her to another seat to the applause of everyone around me…and I got an nice empty seat next to me….I resent this complainants description of the other party..it shows her initial prejudice….perhaps the OP was overly sensitive to that and apologized at the very beginning. This complainant would be the one moving if I had been the “large” person…I always win that battle. Here is a tip…keep your fat mouth shut and take notes! I love having two seats on a plane, so go ahead and act like a size bigot and I will have yours too!

  • Karlie

    I’m SWA A-list, so I get to board first on all flights. I always head for the exit rows. On one flight, I was seated in the exit aisle seat (best one on the plane, IMO) and halfway through boarding this obnoxious couple gets on. They want the middle and window. Fine. Then the wife says to me, “I’m pregnant and pee alot so you should switch with me.” I told her no. She called me a few words a woman should never use to another.

    The FA came over and the woman told her that I had “Stolen” her seat. The FA knew me (I fly that route A LOT) and laughed, telling her that she knew I was there from the beginning and that if she was indeed pregnant she couldn’t sit in the exit row.

    With a huff, the woman and her companion left my row and walked a few rows forward. They saw a young woman and the rude lady said, “You, move!” The girl was stunned. The rude woman said, “I meant NOW!”

    The FA’s had already gotten a supervisor involved and guess who didn’t ride on our flight?

    That’s why I love SWA. They don’t put up with drama queens.

  • Ed

    yeah, but the passenger didn’t hit the FA with their carryon bag!

  • PauletteB

    Out of simple consideration for others, I never wear fragrance when flying. Some people who wear the same fragrance all the time lose their sensitivity to it; by the time they’ve doused themselves enough so that they can smell the scent, they’re off the gag-o-meter for everyone else. I’m 100 percent with Stephanie and Southwest on this one. The woman’s big mouth got her kicked off the flight, not Stephanie’s request. @ Robert Henderson: Your persecution complex is showing.

  • http://www.cockam.com ajaynejr

    (quoted) wish that airlines would institute a larger seat section. When you book in at the airport there should be an economy seat right there. If you can not show that you can sit in that sample seat without hanging over the edges you will be required to pay for the larger seat.

    Southwest already has this policy in effect somewhat. You book two seats. If the plane is not fully booked (excluding standby’s) you have the second seat and do not have to pay for it.

    If you are not sure you need a second seat, then you really would have little difficulty avoiding touching the person next to you,

    Or saying it another way, if you expect to have difficulty not touching the person next to you then you obviously need two seats.

    If just the odor is a problem I suggest a nose clip or nose plugs that swimmers wear. Not sure whether Ear Planes ™ work.

  • kaytee

    The woman who was evicted from the plane SHOULD have been evicted from the plane. She was lazy and/or stupid (for not arriving early enough to get seats together with her husband), thoughtless (for wearing too much perfume) and foul-mouthed. Good riddance! I love Southwest! If only they would fly to Hawaii, I would never have to use another airline again. Southwest, are you listening?

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