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 and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth, overseeing more than 175 professionals in the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named "PR Agency of the Year" by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world's most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, and a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, was named to PR Week's "40 under Forty" list, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations" is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities.