Kevin Smith vs. Southwest Airlines – A Social Media Case Study

Posted on February 23, 2010


(Posted by ThatKevinSmith on Twitter)

I came late to this argument between actor/director Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines.

The short version: Smith was on a Southwest flight from Oakland to Burbank last weekend. He was scheduled to go on a later flight, but decided to flight standby for an earlier flight. Smith was at the top of the standby list and got on. But was forced off the flight before the plane left the gate.

Smith believes that he was either:

A) Targeted by someone who works at Southwest before he sat down.

B) Because he was targeted because of the airlines’ “Too Fat to Fly” rule. Where you to buy a second seat if you can not buckle you seat beat with the armrest down. Smith on Twitter feed and his podcast called “Smodcast” insists that he is able to meet their standard.

The airline disagreed. Smith got on his regularly scheduled flight and arrived without a problem.

Things I like about this story.
1. The impact of Twitter: Most, of the dialoague played out on Twitter. Smith was live-tweeted from the airport as he was ejected by Southwest personnel. Southwest tweeted an psuedo-apology and a desire to contact Smith and did damage control. Also the mainstream media ABC’s Good Morning America and Larry King attempted to get Smith to agree to an interview over Twitter.

2. The fact that a company/organization better have a Social Media plan. Just like a person is responsible for putting together a PR plan. You better have a Social Media plan in place. Or at least have someone keeping track of tweets that contain your companies’ name.

Things that I hate about this story.

1. No one really got why Smith was upset. If you listened to the podcast, you heard that he could care less, but he was fighting for the woman on the second flight who was allegdally talked to by a Southwest flight attendent and “Encouraged” to buy a second seat the next time she flew. Smith believed that was out of line and unecessary because the second flight was not full and there was not a person sitting in the middle seat next to her.

2. Southwest revealing the buying habits of a customer. In their first blog post, they revealed that Smith normally buys two tickets. I would not be comfortable if it was revealed that I prefer aisle seats because I am afraid of flying. It might not be illegal, but it is for sure bad form. Southwest surmised that Smith bought two tickets because he could not fit into one seat. Smith argues he buys two tickets because the tickets are cheap and he is shy.

3. The media. The media got their information from Smith’s Twitter feed and the statement by Southwest. Along with Smith’s tweeted photo from the plan. BOOM. Instant story. Most referred to the podcast, but did not quote from it. Admittedly, it was a 90 minute podcast. But I found time Sunday night to listen to the podcast twice. Surely a blogger or a reporter can listen to it while they are writing their story.
What do I think?Smith was 100 percent in the right. Smith is not the problem. The super vague and subjective definition for Southwest’s “Too Fat To Fly” rule is the rule. Smith argues that if you can buckle your seat and put down the arm rest, you are good to go. So booting him would have been unacceptable.

For the record, Smith offered to go on The Daily Show with John Stewart and a row of Southwest seats and demonstrate that he can fit into a seat. He has even offered $10,000 to Southwest’s favorite charity if he can not. Southwest said they “likely won’t accept” the challenge.

Smith ended it saying that because 58 percent of CNN viewers sided with the airline, he decided to stop talking about it.

In a LA online poll. 37 percent believed that Southwest Airlines was in the wrong.

I would love to find out how many people in each poll only got the highlights or listened to the podcast or Smith’s Twitter feed. I would guess that most bought Southwest’s version of the story.

Here are some of screenshots from Smith’s Twitter feed:

Posted in: Internet