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[whitespace] Dana Talaber Just Plane Angry: Dana Talaber is planning to take action against Southwest Airlines.


Bottom Line

Southwest Airlines' decision to vigorously enforce its policy of requiring obese customers to purchase two seats has left the owner of women's plus-sized clothing store Ample Annie nonplussed.

Says Dana Talaber, who owns the veteran Pacific Avenue shop, "The decision is another example of prejudice against fat people, which it seems is one of the few prejudices that it's still OK to have. But fat people don't need that pressure; it's not helpful."

Talaber, who is considering setting up a petition against Southwest, says the policy doesn't even make economic sense. "At a time when airlines are having trouble, this is not a come-on."

Southwest's president and chief operating officer Colleen Barrett begs to differ.

"If we were to replace just three rows of three seats with two seats, each one being one and half times wider, we would have to double our fares to maintain our profit margin," writes Barrett in an online message from Southwest.

"Our goal is and has always been to make air travel affordable ... by asking a person to pay up front 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."

All of which only makes Talaber even angrier.

"Do they want to put fat people through a humiliating experience?" she asks, adding that fat people aren't the only ones feeling insulted. "I had a couple come in where the guy was normal-sized, his wife a little hefty, and he was the one incensed. Southwest's policy is alienating families and friends. They need to take it off the books."

Meanwhile, Barrett points out that Southwest's policy is not new, but became "news" when someone in the media (those evil running dogs!) got hold of a copy of a memo that was sent to employees to remind them of the "long-term existing policy" as well as a "new refund policy" for which "customers of a larger size will qualify so long as the flight does not oversell."

But Talaber rails at what she sees as a humiliating size-based identification process:

"What is the "fat" cutoff point? Are they gonna weigh everybody, every time they buy a ticket? And who's gonna make those judgments? And how many people do they get that take up two seats? If Southwest has a problem, they should make bigger seats."

Asked about the logistics of singling out obese people, Southwest spokesperson Whitney Eichinger says most obese customers "buy two tickets ahead."

As for those who don't, Eichinger says, "It's obvious when they approach the customer service counter that they have a problem. Our staff lets them know that they'll need to buy two tickets. It's done very discreetly. It's quite an uncomfortable moment for both parties."

Asked what percentage of Southwest customers are obese, Eichinger said the airline doesn't have these statistics, "because obesity isn't the only reason people request two tickets. Sometimes people buy an extra seat for musical, or whatever, equipment they want to have sitting alongside them."

So, just why has Southwest decided to "vigorously" enforce an existing policy, now of all times?

"To eradicate inconsistencies," says Eichinger. "We hadn't been charging across the system. We wanted to use the policy as stated."

Told of Talaber's petition plans, not to mention the American Obesity Association's "Air Fair" campaign, which encourages people to oppose "Southwest's Zero Tolerance Policy for Overweight Americans," Eichinger said, "In the past ten years, we've had three law suits brought against us around this. All three have been dismissed."

The Hand of Others

After witnessing the Armageddon that was Seabright Beach on July 4th, Nüz was amazed at how clean the strip was the next day, thanks to volunteers and cleanup crews.

Walking the beach, we noticed another cool thing: the naturally occurring summer sand bar is once again in place at the mouth of the San Lorenzo River, thereby forming a summer lagoon.

According to the city's Lower San Lorenzo River and Lagoon Management Plan, "a deep, properly functioning freshwater lagoon is important to steelhead," which have been listed as an endangered species.

Time was that the city implemented an official sand bar management and breaching program, but in 1995, after concerns about public safety, not to mention the steelheads' well-being, these activities ceased.

Well, at least officially.

As noted in the lagoon management plan, "In wetter years it appears that the sand bar self-breaches when the lagoon fills and spills over the sandbar. However, unregulated breaching of the sand bar may occur by the hand of others during the summer months."

Now this "hand of others" has a mysterious sound, like some secret society, which it may indeed be, given that last year alone, the river mouth was illegally breached at least four times, sometimes with Bobcat marks leading across the sand to the river mouth. Yet, mysteriously, no one witnessed the crime--or at least couldn't remember so doing, all of which is enough to make Nüz believe in aliens and Men in Black.

But wait, why would anyone report such an activity, given that there are no signs warning that breaching the sandbar is a crime?

As the lagoon management plan points out, "No enforcement or regulations are posted at the mouth of the river regarding breaching, endangered species or their habitat requirements."

But since the San Lorenzo River is designated critical habitat for the endangered steelhead, breaching the river mouth without a permit is most definitely illegal--not to mention fatal for the fish.

As San Lorenzo Urban River Task Force member Patricia Matejcek explains, "Breaching the river mouth creates a giant vacuum cleaner effect for the young fish who are making their way back down the river and slowly transferring their entire body chemistry from fresh to salt water, a process akin to a tadpole becoming a frog, and one that should not be done in a hurry.

"If someone pulls the plug on the lagoon, the young fish get sucked out and stunned, so they end up floating sideways and becoming bird BBQ, whereas if they have until the fall when the river naturally breaches, they are ready for it."

To date, no one has been officially assigned to monitor sand bar breachings, so Nüz asks that witnesses call us at 457.9000 ext. 214, or email

JavaScript must be enabled to display this email address.

, so we can add such events to our X-files, while we await otherworldly guidance.

Nüz just loves juicy tips: Drop a line to 115 Cooper St, Santa Cruz, 95060, email us at , or call our hotline at 457.9000, ext 214.

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From the July 10-17, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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