Hawaiian Airlines policy ruled not discriminatory … but will that fly?

When two businessmen from American Samoa wanted to pre-select seats on Hawaiian Airlines, they were denied due to the airline’s new policy against improper weight distribution. As you might imagine, this lack of choice seating did not sit well with the businessmen, who promptly filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation claiming discriminatory practices on the part of the airline.

When that news hit the headlines, the cyberspace public quickly picked a corner to support. Vehement pro and con conversations continued to blaze even as the case was considered by USDOT. In the end, the DOT ruled the airline’s refusal to allow pre-selected flights was not discriminatory, based on their acceptance of the airline’s argument that, without proper weight distribution, safety could become an issue for all passengers.

However, some were not assuaged by that answer. According to many who sided with the businessmen, the airline unfairly singled out a single flight – from American Samoa to Pago Pago as being one of the restrictive flights. The airline conducted a six-month study, producing evidence that passengers on that route weighed 33 pounds more than FAA average.

But, facts, while stubborn things, rarely soothe hurt feelings. And therein lay the heart of the issue. Folks didn’t want to “feel fat” and they certainly didn’t want an airline weighing them as they boarded their flights.

Any outsider looking on could have told Hawaiian Airlines that actually weighing passengers was a bad move, but that doesn’t solve the practical problem the company faced. They needed to come up with a solution that appeased their customers while also keeping their planes in the air. And they have, placing a child or an empty seat in every row. That might raise prices slightly for other passengers, but it avoids the overtly awkward scenario of turning every flight into a locker room weigh-in.

Maybe someone at Hawaiian Airlines should have thought of this before they aggravated their frequent fliers.

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Ronn Torossian is the Founder, President and CEO of New York-based 5W Public Relations. He has overseen the company's rapid growth and expansion to the Inc. 500 list, as well as provided counsel to hundreds of companies, including members of the Fortune 500, Inc. 500 and Forbes 400. His work spans global interests, corporate entities, high-profile individuals, regional business entities, government agencies and academic institutions - both on routine public relations matters and extremely sensitive issues. One of the foremost public relations experts in the U.S., Torossian is known for his aggressive, results-focused orientation, as well as his close working relationships with members of the media, influencers, decision makers, politicians and celebrities. At 5W Public Relations, Torossian's client experience has included programs for Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Anheuser-Busch, Barnes & Noble, Cantor Fitzgerald, IHOP, McDonald's, Evian, EDS, VeriSign, XM Radio, Seagram's, The Loews Regency, Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment, Marriott Hotels, Vail Resorts, Pamela Anderson, Snoop Dogg, the Government of Israel, and others. Referred to by The New York Post as a "publicity guru," by Fox News as a "high-powered PR CEO," by Tyra Banks as a "crisis management guru," and by CNN as "a leading PR expert," Torossian is regularly featured in and quoted by the media, including by CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, NBC, The New York Times, and others. CBS National News said "Ronn Torossian knows spin," and a New York Times feature story on Torossian referred to him as "The consummate hard-driving, scrappy NY publicist." Earlier in his career, Torossian was a Vice President/Group Director for one of The InterPublic Group's (IPG) largest PR agencies, where he was responsible for significant client growth and successful client programs, including work for Clinique, Fox News Channel, DHL, Hard Rock Café and others. A resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Torossian was named to the Advertising Age "40 Under 40" list, PR Week's "40 Under 40" List, is a regular lecturer at universities and conferences, a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and a board member of numerous non-profit organizations.