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Southwest tells woman, mother they are 'too fat to fly'

Two women say  Southwest Airlines called them 'too fat to fly,' and were asked to pay extra in order to board the flight.
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Kenlie Tiggeman is impressive, to say the least. She's a budding gardener at her mother's home in Galliano, a political strategist working in New York City, a blogger, and in the last two years — she's lost 120 pounds.

But unfortunately, some people only look skin deep.

"It doesn't matter how far I have come. I have a long way to go, but no one sees that. All they see is my exterior — someone who is fat," explained Tiggeman.

She said that's what happened during a layover in Dallas on Easter Sunday, when she and her mother were singled out by a Southwest employee for their weight.

"I asked him what the weight restrictions were and he said that he didn't know, just that we were too heavy to fly. Too fat to fly," said Tiggeman.

Southwest's "Customers of Size" policy states passengers are required to buy a second seat if they cannot fit between the armrests, which measure 17 inches across.

"I know that I have a lot of weight to lose but I am definitely not too fat to fly. I do it all the time, domestically and internationally, and I have never had anyone approach me and particularly in the way that they did," said Tiggeman.

Issues with Southwest's "Customers of Size" policy are not new. A spokeswoman said employees are told to speak with customers in a private area and if necessary, check if they fit in the seats prior to boarding and always use the utmost discretion. However, Tiggeman and her mom, Joan Charpentier, said the 45 minute conversation, which included questions about their weight and what size clothing they wear, in front of more than 100 people, was anything but discreet.

"It was the worst time I've ever had in my whole life. I was embarrassed, humiliated," said Charpentier.

The worker then tried to strike a deal. Tiggeman, Charpentier and a third overweight woman could fly, if they would sit together.

"Of course my daughter was okay with that. But I wasn't because the deal I made with Southwest when I left, I bought a ticket and it's open seating, and you can sit wherever you want," said Charpentier.

After a supervisor's intervention, the women were allowed on the flight without buying additional seats. They were even given flight vouchers and an apology, which was recorded on Tiggeman's phone.

Tiggeman shared what happened in her blog. It caught the attention of a Southwest executive, who contacted her to apologize and offered additional vouchers. But Tiggeman isn't looking for compensation.

"Their sensitivity level needs to change, period. It needs to be different," said Tiggeman.

"But I really want them to do more training with their employees, from the top to the bottom. Because if it happened to us, it's going to happen again," said Charpentier.

But there has been some good to come out of all of this. On her blog, Tiggeman wrote an open letter to fitness guru and New Orleans native Richard Simmons, since his videos played such a large role in her weight loss. She said she wanted to use her free voucher to visit his studio in Beverly Hills, and somehow Simmons saw the letter and wrote to her personally and asked her to work out with him.