DENVER -- A Southwest Airlines passenger says he was yanked off of a Denver-bound flight like a criminal, but his only crime was being overweight.
At roughly 340 pounds, Matthew Harper knows he's big, but says that's no excuse for how he was treated. He says he “felt like a criminal.”
Harper lives in Kyle, Texas and works all over the country on various electrical projects.
He had just boarded his flight from Chicago to Denver on Sunday, April 21 when he says a Southwest official demanded he get off the plane.
“I’m 34 years old, and I’ve never been humiliated like this in my life. I mean, when I got back on the plane, only thing I could do was put my head down.”
Harper was sitting with his brother at the time, and says he was taken off the plane, in front of passengers waiting to board, and told the flight was overbooked.
He says the official then asked if he knew about Southwest's policy for overweight passengers. “I said yes ma’am I do, and she said ‘I just want to explain what I can and can’t do. I can yank you off this plane right now.’”
Harper was eventually let back on the plane, but only after the flight was delayed 30 minutes.
Harper says his company uses Southwest to fly him and other employees all over the country, and not once has his size been an issue.
“I used to weigh 430 pounds, I’ve lost 100 pounds and when I was 430, I never had this issue.”
On Southwest's website the "Customer of Size" policy encourages large passengers to purchase an extra seat before their flight saying, "[it] helps to ensure we can accommodate all Customers on the flight/aircraft for which they purchased a ticket and avoid asking Customers to relinquish their seats for an unplanned accommodation."
"We sincerely regret Mr. Harper’s unhappiness over his experience," said Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz. "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 scheduled—we did not deny him boarding. Our Employee informed him of our policy, and he proceeded to travel as scheduled."
Harper says he knows what the policy says, but was frustrated why he was singled out.
“What made it worse was there was two guys on there that was bigger than me, and they didn’t get pulled off the plane,” Harper said.
Southwest says passengers should buy an extra ticket if they don’t fit between the armrests, which is a space just 17 inches across. That's roughly the size of a large laptop computer.
Harper also says no one even sat between him and his brother, so even though the flight was overbooked, he still had an open seat and was not encroaching on any other passengers.
When the flight landed in Denver, Harper says he filed a complaint with customer service and was offered $100, but he turned it down. He is now seeking legal advice.