Fat and Angry, You Aren't Flying

350-pound man stopped after agent took his boarding pass

By Zach Christman
|  Monday, Sep 7, 2009  |  Updated 1:35 AM CDT
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Fat and Angry, You Aren't Flying

Hold it right there, big boy.

Southwest Airlines is taking a sumo-sized media flogging from a man who says he was refused a seat on one of their flights because he was told he's too fat.

Emery Orto and his wife flew Southwest from Chicago to Vegas to celebrate her 62nd birthday. Getting there was fine, but on the way back, Orto says he was stopped on the ramp after giving an agent his boarding pass and told he couldn't get on the plane, the Southtown Star reported.

The agent came up behind Orto and wanted to know if the 350-pound, 6-foot man could sit in his seat with the armrests folded down, Orto told the Southtown Star.

He said he could, but the agent didn't buy it.

"The airline employee then told me, 'You're not going to fly on this plane today.' I said, 'What did you just say?' and she said, 'You're not flying on this plane today,'" Orto told the paper.

The agent quickly found herself talking to a pissed off 350-pound man, as Orto freely admits. When the agent threatened him with arrest, Orto and his wife calmed down -- but they were still unable even to get their bags off the plane.

Phil Kadner, who wrote the article for the Southtown, made a great point to a Southwest spokeswoman who was trying to defend the airline's actions:

I asked the spokeswoman how she would've reacted if someone told her that she couldn't get on a flight for which she had purchased a ticket.

"I don't know," she said.

I suggested that anyone stopped on a gangway and told they would not be allowed to board a plane likely would react by raising their voice and shouting. The spokeswoman accused me of attempting to put words in her mouth.

The spokeswoman claims Orto was given the option of buying an additional seat for half price, but Orto says that never happened. Turned away from the plane, he and his wife found a sympathetic Southwest employee who Orto says escourted them to the United Airlines counter, where they bought two tickets for $400 a pop.

According to the stats he gave the newspaper, Orto is well into the morbidly obese category. But Southwest's policy on forcing fat passengers to buy an extra seat is based on whether they can fit into one seat with the arm rests down -- not on how they look. Southwest isn't the only airline with a policy like this. If Orto's story checks out, it seems that if Southwest wants to avoid alienating a third of the people in this country who are obese, they should be a bit more discreet in how they enforce their rule.

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