Sissonville man says airline embarrassed him over his weight - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Sissonville man says airline embarrassed him over his weight

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Sissonville native Matt Harper said he's never felt as small as he did last week.

Harper, 34, was boarding a flight from Chicago to Denver, when he said an employee with Southwest Airlines demanded he get off the plane.

The two left the aircraft, stopping at the mouth of the terminal.

"She asked me if I knew the policies for Southwest and I said, 'Yes ma'am, I do'" said Harper, who now lives in Kyle, Texas.  She said, 'I could yank you from the plane right now.'"

He claimed the employee said the flight was overbooked, even though the seat next to him was empty. Harper said he frequently flies Southwest because he regularly travels for his job, doing electrical work. But he's never encountered this scenario before.

"Honestly, it hurt my pride. I know for myself I'm obese, but I'm working on it," said Harper, who weighs roughly 340 pounds. now and claims he even shed 100 pounds this past year.

Between armrests, a seat measures 17 inches on a Southwest Airlines plane.

"Customers who encroach upon any part of the neighboring seat(s) may proactively purchase the needed number of seats prior to travel in order to ensure the additional seat(s) is available," according to the company's policy on "Customers of Size".

Harper's friend, Clayton Long, said the way the airline treated him falls nothing short of discrimination.

"He's overweight, a lot of people are. I'm overweight," said Long, who still lives in Sissonville. "To get on a plane ticket and get thrown off because you're overweight just ain't right."

After arguing with the employee, Harper re-boarded the flight without buying a new seat.

He said that the pilot then announced over the intercom crippled his spirit.

"'Due to the incident outside and us trying to balance the weight on the plane, we've been delayed.  But don't worry, we'll make up the time in the air,'" said the pilot, according to Harper.

"We're trying to teach our kids not to bully in school," he said. "How can we teach our children if adults don't do this?"

Southwest Airlines issued this statement to 13 News:

"We sincerely regret Mr. Harper's unhappiness over his experience. We have personally called Mr. Harper to offer him our apologies and better understand his concerns. It's important to clarify that he did travel as schedule—we did not deny him boarding. Our Employee informed him of our policy, and he proceeded to travel as scheduled."

Spokesperson Chris Mainz said Southwest Airlines offered Harper $100 in travel credits but he refused the compensation. When asked if Southwest would alter their seats for larger customers, Mainz replied:

"We are not considering changing our seat size. They are industry standard, if not slightly larger seats than most airlines."

Harper filed a complaint with Southwest Airlines after he landed. He said he's considering taking legal action against the company.