In fact, in scanning documents about Southwest, one finds that they have been accused of being insensitive to the issue of larger built passengers. It appears that, at times, SW requires large passengers purchase two seats or not fly. Of course, as with most controversial issues, there are layers of issues surrounding this controversy: are Americans becoming larger? Are SW seats smaller to squeeze more profit into a flight? What are the safety ramifications of a larger person in a single seat? Is the comfort of other passengers an issue? Are there moral and ethical principles at work here, or is SW Airlines just selfish and greedy? (Netter, 2009).
Analysis shows that Southwest, and most of the major airlines have not reacted with fairness with their seat sizes; Americans are growing larger, but seat distance and sizing remains equal to, or smaller, than 3-4 decades ago. This is unfair and unethical because it punishes everyone, not just the obese. It is not uncommon in the airline industry, particularly after fuel became expensive to charge for excess baggage weight. The airlines each have different policies and procedures, weight limits, etc. Thus, if we think about it, excess girth and/or weight is quite similar. Tickets are issued based on a per seat limitation -- a client should comfortably fit into a seat. In this way, each person will be relatively comfortable. Principles of utilitarianism dictate that it is not just the obese person's considerations that must be addressed, but also those of fellow passengers. These other passengers paid for a seat/ticket, and thus should not be placed in a position of discomfort because the person next to them takes up more than 1 seat's space. In addition, safety and accessibility issues may be problematic. There is certainly a great deal of subjectivity when dealing with issues of this nature. The flight crew must make decisions about people, luggage, age, demeanor, etc., so issues of who and who not to allow on the aircraft should be clearly outlined in a company document.
Alternatives and Potential Solutions
SW employs a focus strategy, which strategy concentrates on a limited number of target markets. It is sometimes known as niche marketing, and allows a firm to tailor its marketing mix to the needs of a specialized market, thereby doing a better job of meeting the needs of that market. Firms that use focus strategy are often more successful when they target a market that is not as vulnerable to imitative competitors. Since 1988 SW has had a single driving paradigm: "dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit" in line with this policy, there is nothing unfair or immoral about asking an obese passenger to purchase two tickets, both in fairness to the other passengers and safety.
SW can immediately institute a height/weight ratio for all passengers for its seats, and then begin a program in partnership with Boeing, that uses modern ergonomic engineering to allow seats to fit larger passengers. In the final analysis, the company trusts the flight crew to be responsible for the safety and comfort of the entire passenger component. The flight crew has no choice but to base their decisions on what is the best possible safe solution for the greatest number of people; along with the corporate responsibility of maintaining a profitable business entity. Certainly, to make the situation fairer the policy must have dual tabs: height v weight in a given situation. This allows for procedural fairness; distributive fairness over time, and that despite the potential embarrassment to the overweight passenger, the safest and fairest outcome would be to adhere to the rules about purchasing two seats under identified criteria.
Fortune 100 Best Companies. (2011). Fortune Magazine. Retrieved from: http://www.fortune.com