Southwest Airlines in "epic" social media fail with Kevin Smith

If you had been stressing out about how to create your very own social media PR disaster sweat it no more. Southwest Airlines has some helpful tips after it threw ‘Clerks’ and ‘Dogma’ director Kevin Smith off of one of its planes at the weekend for “being too fat”.

That’s your first tip right there: choose a high profile media personality with a cult following on the web, the blogosphere on and on Twitter. Kevin Smith, aka Silent Bob from his six New Jersey based movies (‘Chasing Amy’ is still my favourite), will do nicely.

Smith was flying from Oakland (he’d been to Macworld Expo) to Burbank when he was kicked off of the plane for failing the airline’s armrest test (you have to be able to put both arms down…).

The airline apologised via Twitter (Our apology to @ThatKevinSmith…) and on a blog post but by then it was far too late. It had as the post below states been contacted by a great many people and had been forced to go public.

“Many of you reached out to us via Twitter last night and today regarding a situation a Customer Twittered about that occurred on a Southwest flight. It is not our customary method of Customer Relations to be so public in how we work through these situations, but with so many people involved in the occurrence, you also should be involved in the solution. First and foremost, to Mr. Smith; we would like to echo our Tweets and again offer our heartfelt apologies to you. We are sincerely sorry for your travel experience on Southwest Airlines.”

There are 354 articles coming up on Google News and Smith has been tweeting away heavily to his 1.65 million following.

“Wanna tell me I’m too wide for the sky? Totally cool, but fair warning folks: If you look like me, you may be ejected from Southwest Air,” he wrote on Twitter.

Southwest Airlines in a moment combing bad judgement and bad luck has had its reputation among air passengers generally (and of a particular size more specifically) well and truly trashed.

Smith is taking it to his podcast and talking about it on the Daily Show and his further tweets say it all:

“Sometimes it baffles me how little people think things through. ‘Free publicity!’ = 200 new articles declaring I’m fat. Yay, me. Epic win.”

So true, throwing passengers off of planes and giving them $100 vouchers is not going to win you repeat custom. Worse according to Smith it was not only the PR the airline got wrong.

“But, by their own guidelines, I was not, in fact, 2 Fat 2 Fly: the arm rests went down & I could buckle my seat belt w/o an extender. So…?

“In their ‘apology’ blog, they implied (or flat-out wrote) that I regularly purchase 2 seats. Writing that buttresses their lie: 2 Fat 2 Fly”.

If you look at Smith on film or TV he is big guy but he’s not that big. Certainly he doesn’t look like he needs two seats. But none of that matters. Southwest will have to endure days of this after what looks like an over zealous reaction of staff. It is an “epic fail” that is worth millions to rivals. Why is common sense one of the first casualties of corporate culture?


  • Jeremy Jarrett

    I know that your saying this is an Epic Fail, but to me this just stinks of ‘Don’t you know who I am’, I’m going to make you pay for this…

  • Daan Jansonius

    How is this a social media fail?

    To me a social media fail implies a company made errors in their use of social media. In this case, it is clearly a onboard problem, which happened to go public because of the person’s celeb status.

    From there on South West seemed to have used the very same tools to reach out to this person and make everyon aware of their apology and handling of the situation.

    It’s not the handling of PR or social media that’s at fault, it was the dealing with the customer in the first place.

  • Gordon Macmillan

    @Jeremy I think you’re right there is a bit of that, but then i think so what. It could have been me (but bigger) and i clearly don”t have the power of Kevin Smith but i could still make an effort to stink up the place for Southwest. And that i think is the point.

    Richard Sambrook, the BBC news guy who has just joined Edelman, has a great line about the audience now being ‘on the pitch’. We all to lesser or greater degrees have that power.

    @Daan I think it is a combination of all of the ingredients in this story that led to Southwest Airlines failure. It starts with customer service, bu then simply escalated with poor use of Twitter, blogs and PR to turn this loss into a win.

    Smith highlighted an issue that is of clear concern to people who are overweight and fly. Southwest needed to show it was on there side by coming out and being positive and always do what it can to help them. I don’t think it did that; i don’t think it thought it through. It’s crisis management team failed.

  • Jeremy Jarrett

    I know where your coming from Gordon and I do agree. If i was a biffa I wouldn’t be too happy about the situation, but at the same time there could be some embarrassment here from Kevin Smith as we are being told that fat is not socially acceptable. (off point I know but still a media portrayal).

    The internet and new/social media has given us all a voice, but its still only the people that have celeb or cult status that anybody really listens to other than specific interest related media such as this site.