Did I do something wrong? I don’t think so.
Yesterday, for the fifth or sixth time, I offered helicopter rides at an airport event in Arizona. (I’m being vague on purpose here; it really doesn’t matter which event.) Because I’ve been outrageously busy every other year, this year I had a friend join me with his helicopter, a beautiful Bell 47.
Despite the fact that the two of us were running mostly nonstop with a total of five passenger seats between us and the $35 rides weren’t very long, a line soon built. Near the end, folks were waiting about 2 hours to fly with one of us. Not a single person complained to me or the other pilot about the wait.
Sometime during the day, a loader came up to me and asked if I could take a passenger weighing 350 pounds. I said no. My legal seat limit is 300 pounds, but in many cases, the seatbelt simply won’t fit around someone that big, so I set a practical weight limit of 275 pounds. I hate to see people get embarrassed when the seatbelt won’t fit. The scale I’d brought along to weigh passengers — who always lie about their weight — only went up to 250 pounds.
That was the last I heard about it.
Until I got home. In my email inbox was a message from the 350-pound man. I’ve redacted some of the information here; I don’t want to embarrass him by leaving in anything that could identify him, including his profession which really doesn’t relate to the story anyway. Please note that the break he refers to was because the airport shut down for a full hour for an RC aircraft demonstration that we had no control over.
I visited the XXX Air Fair today, February 23, 2013. I purchased my ticket at approximately 11:30am and I didn’t get to the front of the line until approximately 1:45pm, in part due to a one hour break between noon and 1pm. I came to the air fair for the sole purpose of getting a ride in a helicopter, because it’s something I’ve never done before.
However, it wasn’t until I was literally the next person to get onto the next helicopter, that I was told that I was too heavy to fly. I weigh 350 lbs. and they said the seat limit was 275 lbs. This is absolutely understandable. I respect safety just as much as the next person, especially considering I am a XXX. But I waited, as did my wife and XXX month old son, for over 2 hours before being informed that I would not be able to fly. This is unacceptable. I was only at the fair for little over three hours, and I spent a little over two of those hours waiting to fly in the helicopter. My son was getting fussy and my wife was getting frustrated but I was willing to wait so that I could do something that is/was probably a once in a lifetime experience for me, and it never came to be.
Now at the booth, there was nothing whatsoever that explained the requirements for flying. I was never verbally explained any of the requirements either.
Immediately after finding out that I couldn’t fly, I left because I was very upset. Going up in that helicopter was all I wanted to do since finding out about the air fair a few weeks ago.
I did receive my money back, excluding taxes, but I feel that I deserve better than that. I waited for quite a long time, in the sun, with my fussy 15 month old. I don’t know what you can offer me, but it needs to be more than just my money back.
Thank for your time.
I spoke to the woman selling the tickets, who is a very good friend of mine. She remembered the man and how upset he was. She told me she apologized repeatedly but it wasn’t enough to satisfy him. She told me she thought he wanted something beyond a refund — which was clear in the last paragraph of his email message to me. She also confirmed that he never told her his weight and that although he looked big, there had been someone who looked bigger than him earlier in the day and we’d flown him. I remembered that guy — he hadn’t been anywhere near 350 pounds.
I read and re-read his message and two sentences stood out from the second paragraph: I weigh 350 lbs. and they said the seat limit was 275 lbs. This is absolutely understandable.
I prepared my response:
I’m sorry you had to wait and not get your ride. However, I spoke to the person selling the tickets and got her side of the story, too. She remembers you well, primarily because you were so upset.
In your message, quoted verbatim below, you said, “I weigh 350 lbs. and they said the seat limit was 275 lbs. This is absolutely understandable.”
Okay, so if you understand that your weight could be an issue when flying in a helicopter, why didn’t you tell the ticket seller your weight when you bought your ticket? If you had, she would have told you then that you could not fly with us. YOU know how much you weigh. Do you think that she did? You never told her what you weighed. It wasn’t until the passenger loaders saw you that they realized there could have been a problem.
Let’s face it, as a very large person you must often run into situations where your size is an issue. Both of the aircraft we were flying are considered small. I don’t see how you thought that someone your size could fit into or safely fly in either one. I don’t know any aircraft flying rides at an event like this that could accommodate someone your size. And I honestly don’t think that this should’ve been a surprise to you.
Again, I’m sorry you were disappointed. But to expect me to compensate you for your disappointment — when you could have prevented it by simply telling the ticket seller your weight up front to confirm we could accommodate you — is not reasonable. Take this as a lesson learned. When in doubt, present all the facts up front.
Owner and Chief Pilot
Flying M Air
Please note that I did not use the words fat or obese in my message. I didn’t see the guy — for all I know, he could have been 7 feet tall and built like a healthy football player. I did not want to insult him and I was very careful about the way I phrased my response. But honestly: 350 pounds? That’s more than twice my size and no one considers me small. How could he not expect problems in a helicopter as small as the two we were operating?
His response came quickly and was incredibly rude:
Wow. Just wow. I wasn’t expecting a response as cruel as this. I don’t know anything about helicopters so why would I know anything about their weight limits?
And for you to be so harsh is unacceptable. So you all can go fuck yourselves. How about that? I will work very hard to get the word out that your company is a cold hearted bitch. How does that sound?
You could have just offered me a fucking t-shirt, something. But instead you belittle me about my weight. Do you know my circumstances at home? No you don’t.
I hope your helicopter crashes!
Wow. Just wow.
What is this guy’s problem? Was my response “cruel” or “harsh”? And did I “belittle” him about his weight? Am I the only person on the planet who thinks 350 pounds is large? I don’t even personally know anyone that size.
He’ll work very hard to get the word out that my “company is a cold-hearted bitch”? What the hell does that even mean?
And how should I know his circumstances at home? Why should they matter?
Do you think this guy gave himself a stroke just writing that email message? I can almost see the veins in his neck pulsating from the blood pressure rise.
Any thoughts on this? Did I mishandle it? What should I have done? In hindsight, I think ignoring the original message might have been a better solution. What do you think?
And, for the record, the few T-shirts we had on hand would not have fit him — we only had sizes Medium and Small.