What if you were boarding a plane and told you were too fat to fly? Can you imagine the pain and embarrassment you would feel? Well, one woman who went through this very experience said it not only left her feeling humiliated, but also like she was treated incredibly unfairly.
Kenlie Tiggeman, a blogger and political strategist, flies often both domestically and internationally. While she’s never had a problem with any other airline when it comes to her size, Tiggeman – who’s already lost more than 120 pounds – was told by a Southwest gate attendant on two separate occasions that she didn’t meet the requirements of the company’s “Customers of Size” policy.
Southwest’s policy states that it does not allow passengers to board who can’t fit between the 17-inch armrests, unless they buy a second seat. Tiggeman is more than happy to oblige with this rule, but her problem with it is that it’s not consistent or clearly defined, which is why Southwest has let her board most of the flights she’s purchased tickets for, and then unexpectedly denied her the right to board others. For this reason, Tiggeman has decided to sue the airline.
“I want people to recognize that it’s unacceptable to humiliate someone at the gate, and more importantly, it’s unnecessary,” she says. “I’m a paying consumer and I’m willing to follow the rules, but Southwest needs to make those the rules clear and concise.”
Tiggeman says there are not specifics in the “Customer of Size” policy when it comes to weight or body dimensions, which leaves the 17-inch armrest rule completely up to the gate attendant’s discretion – making it subjective, unfair, and discriminatory.
Both times Southwest has denied Tiggeman the right to board, they’ve reached out to her by e-mail to apologize and to refund her ticket. But the apologies weren’t enough as Tiggeman filed the lawsuit against the company on April 20, 2012 and is currently waiting for them to respond.
Tiggeman says she isn’t looking for attention or monetary gain. She’s looking to have the rules clearly defined so she and others won’t be unexpectedly embarrassed when they try to board a flight, based on a gate attendant’s view of their size.
“It’s just not consistent or fair,” she says. “There are millions of people who are sitting at home, afraid to fly. And we need to understand there is a whole sect of people who are being excluded, which makes it worth it for me to go on the chopping block and change this.”
Tiggeman decided to move forward with the lawsuit after she was denied the right to fly a second time, even after the company apologized and refunded her ticket for the first instance. She reportedly flew from Baltimore to New Orleans on Southwest without incident, and once again from New Orleans to Los Angeles. But on her very next flight to Denver, she says she was told, ‘Well look at you, obviously you need two seats.’
Tiggeman says this utter lack of consistency needs to be addressed, and what she’s hoping to prove is that it’s not OK to discriminate against anybody. If we’re too fat to fly, she says, what is the rule?
Tiggeman has been blogging about her experience at her site alltheweigh.com since 2009, where she discusses her daily struggles and victories in losing weight. She says her regular group of readers have been showing her unwavering support throughout the process, for which she’s incredibly grateful.
“What I want Southwest to do is become more consistent. I’m happy to follow the rules, I just want to know what they are at the point of purchase,” she says. “They have to open this up for discussion, and they could really be a pioneer on this issue and set an industry standard.”
Tiggeman wants to make it clear that she doesn’t want to encroach on anyone’s space, and is not advocating for obesity – that she’s sweating every day trying to change that. But while it’s not her right to judge any one else, nor is it the right of a gate agent.
As for future goals, Tiggeman says she’s trying to move into the next phase of her weight loss and is on her way to the second 100 pounds. “I’m thrilled that I’ve kept off this first 100,” she says, “and I’m trying to take it day by day.”
To keep her weight loss on track, Tiggeman has recently joined Weight Watchers where she says she’s learned a lot about healthy eating and portion sizes. And along with her diet program, she’s has also been paired with a personal trainer to stay motivated toward reaching her fitness goals. Visit Tiggeman’s blog to cheer her on in her weight loss efforts, and to follow the progress of her lawsuit.