Southwest Airlines Bumps the Wrong Passenger, DiscoversTwitter PR Mess

On Saturday, the crew of a Southwest Airlines flight between the California cities of Oakland and Burbank asked a passenger to leave the plane before takeoff because it deemed him too overweight to fly. Unfortunately, that passenger happened to be Clerks and Chasing Amy director Kevin Smith, who has more than 1.5 million Twitter followers and was willing to make sure that they all heard all about it.

“Dear @SouthwestAir – I know I’m fat, but was Captain Leysath really justified in throwing me off a flight for which I was already seated?” Smith asked in a heavily quoted tweet on Saturday evening. Smith eventually posted dozens of tweets about the incident.

Southwest, which also has more than a million Twitter followers and uses the service for customer relations, posted a blog entry apologizing to Smith and admitting that the situation was poorly handled, to which Smith–who says he was seated with his seat belt buckled and both armrests down–wrote a rebuttal on his well-trafficked blog.

It’s yet another example of how Twitter and other forms of new-media mass communication are shaping that old industry known as public relations. With Twitter, many companies are conducting customer relations in the public eye, and a company’s response to a high-profile disgruntled customer may require dispatching the PR team. Good communication between the two is obviously key.

What the whole thing amounted to was about the worst scenario imaginable. An airline was awkwardly executing a controversial policy with a passenger, and that passenger happened to be one of Twitter’s most popular and opinionated users.

Meanwhile, Smith isn’t letting this one go. He’s challenged Southwest to show up to the set of the Comedy Central late-night talk show “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and bring an airline seat along so that he can sit in it and prove his point. CNET has the full story by Caroline McCarthy.