Viral TikTok Sparks Interest in Southwest Airlines' Policies for Plus-Size Travelers – Good Morning America

WATCH: Teacher’s TikTok series showcases the reality of traveling as a plus-sized human

For decades, Southwest Airlines has helped plus-size passengers fly comfortably by offering additional, complimentary space. But after a now-viral video showed the policy being implemented, some travelers took to social media to criticize the airline.

The Dallas-based airline has a “customer of size” policy that allows overweight passengers whose bodies cannot fit into a seat – a limit demarcated by the armrest – to get “the number of seats they need” free of charge receive.

“For more than 30 years, we have had a long-standing policy aimed at meeting the seating needs of customers who require more than one seat and ensuring the comfort and safety of everyone on board,” the company says on its website Southwest Airlines.

In an emailed statement to ABC News, Southwest Airlines public relations officer Tiffany Valdez pointed to the existing policy and wrote, “This has always been our policy and nothing has changed recently.”

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images, FILE

A Southwest Airlines jet takes off from Laguardia Airport in the New York City borough of Queens on November 10, 2022.

Explanation of size guidelines for Southwest Airlines customers

The budget airline, known for its open-seat planes, is offering plus-size customers two ways to take advantage of the benefit for free.

The first is to proactively “purchase the required number of seats prior to travel to ensure the additional seats are available,” which the airline says “serves as notification of a special seating need and allows us to plan for the number appropriately .” of occupied seats on board.” After completing the trip, these passengers can contact Southwest “to receive a refund for the cost of additional seats.”

Second, travelers who “do not wish to purchase an additional seat in advance” can purchase a single seat and discuss their seating needs with a gate agent before departure. “If it is determined that a second (or third) seat is required, you will receive an additional seat free of charge.”

Viral TikTok applauds Southwest’s plus-sized passenger policy

In a video that recently went viral on TikTok, plus-size content creator and self-proclaimed “Fat Solo Traveler” Kimberly Garris described how she applied the policy.

First, Garris is seen speaking to a Southwest agent at the departure gate and asking him to apply the “customer of size” policy.

“You can board in advance and get an additional seat for free. Even with fully booked flights,” Garris wrote in an on-screen text that appeared in the video. “Southwest is the only airline with this policy for large-size customers. It should be the industry standard.”

Garris wrote in the caption of her video that when she boards the plane, she also asks for a seatbelt extension before sitting in a window seat and placing the second ticket on the seat next to her.

“If anyone tries to take a seat, I will kindly let them know that I have two seats booked,” she wrote. “To be honest, I almost never get approached because no one wants to sit in the middle seat next to a fat person on a plane.”

Garris shared additional details, as outlined on Southwest’s website, which further explained provisions such as: “You MUST use it at the departure gate when you begin your trip. If you don’t use it when going out, you can’t use it when flying.” back.”

Backlash against Southwest Airlines’ customer policies

While many, including Garris, praised Southwest for its “fair and humane way of transporting fat passengers with dignity,” others have complained, claiming the policy glorifies obesity.

Other critics responded to the barrage of Southwest headlines on social media as the airline appears to have no formal policy to provide free additional accommodations to larger customers or those who need extra space for medical equipment.

Smith Collection/Getty Images, FILE

Wide angle, interior of the cabin of a Southwest Airlines jet aircraft during boarding, Oakland, January 5, 2020.

“I am 1.90 meters tall”. I’m really curious if this would apply to me,” one person posted on X, formerly Twitter: “For example, would the gate agent offer me a free upgrade to a seat with more legroom?”

When asked for further comment on the recent backlash on social media, a Southwest Airlines representative wrote in a subsequent emailed statement: “This policy greatly serves customers who require additional space, and it It is important to note that this policy applies to a very small percentage of our overall customer base. We have seen no evidence that the policy inconveniences other customers.”

As for Garris, the content creator addressed the backlash in a separate TikTok video this week, saying, “So many people are upset. It’s their policy. It’s their airline. They can choose what they want to do.”