Airplane Flights and Fights

Two interesting airplane externality incidents occurred this week. The director Kevin Smith was escorted off a plane-he couldn’t lower the arm rest on his seat because he was too fat. Mitt Romney asked the passenger in front of him to raise his seatback during takeoff, and the passenger tried to slug him.

I love Silent Bob in the movies, but Kevin Smith was wrong: Why should he be allowed to impose negative externalities, literally spillovers (of his excess avoirdupois), on the passengers adjacent to him? I have little use for Mitt Romney’s politics, but he was right: Why should his safety in the event of an emergency on takeoff be endangered because the person in front of him wishes to continue enjoying a reclining position?


Actually, by Kevin Smith's account, he WAS able to lower the armrest, which he did on the next flight he took, but was escorted off anyway.


Is kevin smith that big?


Check your facts, Kevin could put his armrest down and they ejected him anyway.


I think you're wrong about why Kevin Smith was kicked off the plane. The article you link to does not say "he couldn't lower the arm rest on his seat because he was too fat". The only part of the story that addresses whether he could lower the armrest was a reference to Mr. Smith saying he COULD.

As a fat guy myself, I've read a lot of articles about this incident, and I haven't seen one that contradicts him.

For me, this is all about expecting SWA to follow their own policies - they appropriately have a policy for how to determine if a person is large enough to need an extra seat. It seems they didn't follow that policy. The person affected is upset by that. I think he's right to be upset.


Kevin Smith claims he was in fact able to put both armrests down -- an inability to do so is supposedly one of Southwest's criteria for judging whether a passenger is a "customer of size" who can in fact be escorted from the plane, precisely because of the negative externalities imposed on other passengers. (As with the reclining of seats during takeoff, a matter of safety as well as comfort.) If Kevin Smith is truthful on this point, Southwest was not following its own policies, and the ousting was motivated more by discrimination than safety. Which I'd say goes for your entry here as well (not for the first time). I don't think disgust "counts" as a negative externality.


You have the Kevin Smith thing wrong - he WAS able to lower the armrests. While he is obviously overweight, and I'm sure it is noticeable to those sitting next to him, he was not wrong on this one, as he still conformed to the objective standards that Southwest sets for its passengers to fly in a single seat (ie. lower the armrests).

Southwest is wrong for allowing its employees to subjectively enforce a policy (forcing overweight passengers to buy a second ticket or -- as in this case where there was no second seat available -- leave the flight) even when the passengers themselves are able to meet the standards put forth by the airline.

Ryan Paige

Kevin Smith has REPEATEDLY said that he could lower the arm rests. The story was never Smith's complaint about the Southwest Airlines policy. His complaint was that they have a policy and that they removed him from the plane despite the policy.

That so much of the press willfully ignores that part of the story makes me assume that the press has a story they want to tell and the facts that get in the way are just ignored (kind of like how the New York Times reported the Duke Lacrosse story a few years back).

I'm embarrassed that I have a relative working as an editor at the New York Times if these are the journalistic standards they adhere to.

John Salmon

Why would you ever mention your view of Romney's politics? How is that relevant to the piece?


By all indications he could indeed fit in a single seat, and even volunteered to to prove it on television in a challenge to Southwest (proceeds of the bet would go to charity).

"Smith insisted that he was still able to put both armrests down and buckle his seat belt, which is Southwest's standard."


Seriously. Read the article you linked to.

"Both Smith and the airline acknowledged that he had bought two seats for his original flight from Oakland, where he had spoken at the Macworld Expo conference."


Also: "Smith insisted that he was still able to put both armrests down and buckle his seat belt, which is Southwest's standard."


Do you have a source for your statement that Smith "couldn't lower the arm rest on his seat because he was too fat"? Smith claims that he was able to lower the armrests, and I have not seen a statement from Southwest to the contrary.


Wow, the Kevin Smith army is out in full force. I guess fatties need to stick together, or is that just gravity doing its thing?


Seriously. If your going to open your mouth on your blog at least get your facts right. If the man was too fat to fit in his seat I seriously doubt he would have challenged Southwest to bring a seat to a nation wide TV show and prove it. Go listen to Kevin Smith's podcast of the event and stop misquoting articles.

phineas J whoopie

Oh! "Customers of size" are inconvenient to other customers and can be escorted off the plane..

I await new rules for crying babies..


Large people also provide positive externalities in that they purchase more food and thus providing more revenue for supermarkets and their employees.

There's also the feel-good factor (mean, but often true) that normal-weight people get.


Hamermesh has been off lately. First he showed little understanding of how the iPhone app store works and now he is claiming that Kevin Smith was too fat to put the armrest down and was ejected from the plane. Neither Mr. Smith nor Southwest Airlines have made that claim, to my knowledge.


Your politics don't fall in line with Mitt Romney? I would have NEVER guessed it from your biased posts... Looking forward to your next post complaining about how underpaid you are that's directly followed by a posts about an experience from your latest European vacation.


I saw Kevin Smith speak a few years ago, and my first thought was "Man, that guy is fat." Very funny too, and enormously entertaining. But that said, I would not want to sit next to him on a flight, even if he can put the armrest down. Dude is big.

Eric M. Jones

I think using the ability to lower armrests (or using a seatbelt, probably with an extender) as a standard is nuts.

A huge passenger is a hazard (forget inconvenience) to all other passengers in an emergency.

No, I don't have a solution. Fat is not fun.