03/01/2010 at 01:00 AM EST
Kevin Smith knows how people feel about sitting next to the fat guy on a plane. Sometimes he'll buy two tickets when he flies, "because it's way more comfortable, and I have enough money to do it." But he certainly never saw himself as a danger to others—as flight attendants and a pilot for Southwest Airlines alleged when they removed the Clerks actor-director from a Feb. 13 flight from Oakland to Burbank. "What, was I gonna roll on a fellow passenger?" Smith, 39, wrote indignantly to his million-plus Twitter followers as he was escorted off the plane, having been told he was too large to safely fit into the single seat available when he tried to travel standby. "I know I'm fat, but I'm not that fat!" Smith said on his podcast the next day. "I can fit in one seat." The incident left him "humiliated" and set off a flood of criticism from other passengers, especially those who, unlike Smith, don't necessarily have the funds to buy two seats. Now, he says, "I'm on a mission" to help prevent undue embarrassment for others. "If I had less self-esteem, I'd be in tears," Smith said. Instead Smith, whose new film Cop Out opens Feb. 26, hit back with humor: "Don't worry: Wall of the plane was opened, & I was airlifted out while Richard Simmons supervised."
Southwest first responded by offering Smith a $100 travel voucher (which he refused) and a statement that "our pilots are responsible for the safety and comfort of all customers . . . and therefore made the determination that Mr. Smith needed more than one seat to complete his flight." The airline's policy says passengers must be able to lower their armrests; Smith says he could.
By the evening of Feb. 15, Smith wrote online that he received in a phone call "a serious mea culpa . . . from an actual individual," a Southwest VP of communications, Linda Rutherford. "Linda told me that, before I got anywhere near the plane . . . they were having a space issue onboard with another passenger who'd purchased two seats." But by now Smith saw the problem as bigger than just his ejection. On the flight that finally took him home, Smith settled into a window seat (next to an empty seat he'd purchased). He watched as a flight attendant told a heavy woman to consider buying two seats in the future. "My heart broke for her. This ain't about me anymore. Do you know how much it sucks to be fat? There's no reason to make that person's burden worse. I just want them to change their policy. And stop insulting people."