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February 15, 2010
Don't Bump Kevin Smith, of All People

Memo to Southwest Airlines: Don't throw someone off one of your planes who has 1,651,725 Twitter followers.

Memo to Businesses in General: Assume that any one of your customers might have a lot of Twitter followers, or be otherwise invested in social media. It's a new customer relations age out there.  

Yes, The Guardian and other media outlets are reporting that Kevin Smith, "known for his edgy, expletive-ridden films" (like "Clerks" and "Chasing Amy"), was barred from a flight from Oakland to Burbank, CA, on Saturday because "he was apparently too overweight to fit in his seat."

A Southwest guideline apparently says that passengers who are unable to lower both armrests when seated should book another seat because of complaints it has received from neighboring customers that their travel has been ruined by the "encroachment of a large seatmate."

Whatever Kevin Smith's girth may be, Southwest's actions toward him set of a Twitter tirade (we'd say understandably so) by the filmmaker.

"I know I'm fat," read one of them, "but was Captain Leysath really justified in throwing me off a flight for which I was already seated?"

Good question. Southwest attempted an apology, but Smith kept tweeting, and that escalated to a podcast on his "portly misadventure."

We obviously don't know what pressures the airline's crew felt it was under. Smith notes in his podcast that Southwest flies sky buses with no first class vs. coach distinctions. It's a handy commuter shuttle in his world. 

So now the Age of Flight has moved on to the Age of Micro-Media. There's a new dimension to be considered in public relations quandaries, and Kevin Smith is demonstrating how it can be used.

Mashable reports that Southwest responded to the Smith episode with Tweets and a blog post, including "at least eight Twitter replies from Southwest to Smith over the weekend."  (The blog was down, perhaps hit by too much traffic.) 

For its use of social media, anyway, it calls the airline's attempted handling of the situation "commendable." What's your take on it?  

Kevin Smith photo by Michael Buckner/Getty


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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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