Southwest's official policy, direct from their President/COO:
"A Message From Southwest Airlines
"In the past 48 hours, Southwest Airlines has heard from many people regarding ongoing "news" stories about our policy that requires Customers who occupy two seats to purchase both seats. We have been truly disheartened by the inaccurate reports and the hurt and disappointment this issue has caused so many of you. We are further saddened that the sensationalism of this issue has encouraged many Americans to "take sides" or "poke fun" over a subject that we realize is very real and often uncomfortable to many people. Unfortunately, our attempt to "set the record straight" has continued to be incorrectly reported. As a result, we want to take the opportunity to respond to your questions and concerns regarding what has turned into one of the "hottest" topics during the past couple of days in a forum that hopefully will reach the most people. We value, want, and need your business, and we consider it a privilege each time you call upon our Company to serve you.
"Is this a new policy?
"No. Southwest has had a policy in place since 1980 that requires a Customer to purchase the number of seats he/she occupies. This is a policy that most other airlines also have.
"If the policy is not new, why does it go into effect on June 26 as stated in the news?
"This policy doesn’t go into effect on June 26 (it has been in effect since 1980). The only significance to the June 26 date is that is the date we expect to be fully operational systemwide with our new checkin and boarding process. As you may have heard, Southwest is doing away with our plastic boarding passes and implementing a new checkin and boarding process that involves an electronically issued paper boarding pass.
"We recently began training our Employees on this new process, which allows us the capability to note on the boarding pass itself that a Customer has purchased an additional seat (whether that additional seat is needed for a large Customer, an infant traveling in a child restraint device, a musical instrument, or other items). During that training, we issued an internal document reminding our Agents of our longtime existing policy of requiring a Customer to purchase a second seat if that Customer needed a second seat for his/her safety and comfort on the aircraft. We didn’t issue a press release—someone in the media obtained a copy of the memo from one of our Employees. In fact, the only "new" procedure involving this "old" policy is that our Agents will give the Customer a document that advises of our refund policy and lists a phone number and address the Customer can contact to apply for a refund.
"Why are you asking your Employees to request that a large Customer purchase an additional seat?
"Our entire reason for sending our Employees the reminder is because we are expecting fuller flights this summer. When our aircraft are booked to capacity, and one Customer is occupying more than one seat, another Customer is left without the seat he/she purchased. This ultimately costs us money in denied boarding compensation and inconveniences the Customer who has been "left behind." It is certainly not safe, comfortable, or fair for a person who has purchased a ticket to be left with only a portion of a seat or no seat, nor should anyone be expected to occupy less than an entire seat. Further, it’s not safe, comfortable, or fair for the Customer who is occupying more than one seat to be placed in the situation of having someone crowded in a portion of a seat.
"How much will one have to pay for the additional seat?
"If the Customer is holding an advance purchase, discounted fare, the second seat will be sold at the same discounted fare. If the Customer has purchased one of our low, unrestricted full fares, the second seat will be sold at the discounted Child’s Fare.
"When do I qualify to receive a refund for the additional seat purchase?
"As long as the flight does not oversell (having more Customers waiting to board an aircraft than seats on the aircraft), we will refund the additional seat purchase. All Customers who have purchased an additional seat will receive a document that advises them to contact our Customer Relations Department after travel to request a refund for the additional seat purchased. In addition, if there is a possibility that the flight will oversell, the Customer will be given the option to purchase a second seat and travel on a less full flight to his/her destination without paying a penalty-fee, regardless of the fare paid. And, unlike Customers who must purchase an additional seat to place a musical item, a child restraint device for an infant, etc. and who have other "options" such as holding the infant, placing the item in an onboard stowage space or in the cargo hold, we are sensitive to fact that a large Customer has no choice but to occupy more than one seat. For that reason, this is the one instance where we will offer a refund of the additional seat purchased as long as the flight does not oversell.
"Won’t this be embarrassing to the large Customer and the Employee?
"Because this is not a new policy, our Employees have held this sensitive discussion with some Customers in the past. Many Customers who are of a larger size and who travel often by air purchase two seats when making their reservations because (1) the Customer knows he/she occupies more than one aircraft seat and is more comfortable in two seats and (2) the Customer wants to avoid the discussion with Employees at the airport. In fact, by making arrangements in advance, the Customer has allowed us to deplete the inventory of the second seat so that we don’t sell it to someone else. And by the Customer having purchased the seat in advance, we are less likely to oversell the flight.
"What will happen if a large Customer has only purchased one seat?
"We also realize that sometimes a Customer doesn’t know he/she can purchase a seat in advance and arrives at the airport holding only one ticket. In those cases, we have asked our Agents to kindly and discreetly advise the Customer of the need to purchase an additional seat for everyone’s safety and comfort onboard and to give the Customer the document advising how to obtain a refund. By taking the opportunity to educate the Customer for the next time he/she travels, we have managed the Customer’s expectations by providing consistency.
"I am a large person and use a seatbelt extension, but I fit in one aircraft seat, why should I have to purchase two seats?
"Our policy isn’t about a person’s weight or shape. We have no intentions of having scales, sizing templates, measuring tape, etc. That certainly isn’t a way to treat people, and we have never considered any such thing. Many Customers may use a seatbelt extension but occupy only one seat. Those Customers would not be asked to pay for a second seat. We are simply asking a Customer who must lift the armrest in order to sit in the aircraft seat and who, at that point, is obviously occupying a portion (or all) of the seat next to him/her, to pay for the additional seat being occupied. Again, we will offer a refund if the flight does not oversell.
"Why not make your seats wider or add a few wide seats on your aircraft?
"It’s important to point out that all airlines sell seats to provide transportation between point A and point B. For 2001, on average only six seats per aircraft accounted for Southwest Airlines’ profit. Our goal has always been to make air travel affordable so that everyone could fly. The cities we serve have seen a substantial decrease in generally available air fares, a marked increase in passenger traffic, and more frequent offerings of service; a phenomenon often referred to as "The Southwest Effect." If we were to replace just three rows of three seats with two seats, each being one and a half times wider, we would have to double our fares to maintain our profit margin. Southwest provides all coach class seating; we do not have first class seats on our aircraft. Think of what the other airlines charge for "first class" seating. Let’s take, for example, the Los Angeles-Baltimore/Washington market. Our highest one-way fare is currently $299.00. The equivalent fare for a "coach" seat (same "size" as all of our seats) on our competitors is, give or take a few dollars, $1,100.00 one-way; and a first-class, wider seat is, on average, is $1,650.00 one-way. Purchasing two seats on Southwest Airlines is significantly less expensive than purchasing one first class seat on another airline. And remember, we also offer significantly discounted advance purchase fares. Our goal is and has always been to make air travel affordable, and by asking a person to pay upfront for the "product" being used, this guarantees that everyone has a safe and comfortable experience. Plus, we will refund the additional purchase as long as the flight does not oversell.
"If a flight is "open," why are you charging for an additional seat?
"In the past, when we have allowed some flexibility on "open" flights, we ended up inconveniencing our Customers who need two seats by not providing a consistent expectation. As you may know, the nature of our flights is to combine two or more short, nonstop flights to make a medium to longer haul journey. This means, to get from point A to point B, a Customer may make one or more stops along the way. While the first segment of a flight was "open," oftentimes the remaining segment(s) to a Customer’s destination were full. If a large Customer occupied two seats, but only paid for one, we often found ourselves in the dilemma of having to pay another downline Customer denied boarding compensation because we could not accommodate the downline Customer. Additionally, a Customer’s outbound flight might be open, but the return was full. The inconsistent application of charging for the extra seat on the outbound but not on the return often left the Customer not knowing what to expect and not having a full understanding of our policy. Consistent application of our policy allows a Customer to know what to expect always.
"Isn’t this policy discriminatory toward large Customers?
"Southwest Airlines does not condone discrimination in any form. We have Employees and Customers of all races, ethnicity, religions, shapes, and sizes. Our Mission has always been and will always be to provide safe, reliable, and affordable air transportation for America.
President and Chief Operating Officer"
There you have it, straight from the horse's mouth.
I would imagine these people refused to pay for an extra seat, EVEN though their fat asses would be taking up some of that seat. So Southwest refused to let them on the plane as they weren't paying for their seats. Now they are raising a big stink because they woudln't pay for the extra seat when A: They would be sitting in it and B: It would probably have been refunded unless the flight was completley full.