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Man says Southwest kicked him off flight for critical tweet

A Southwest Airlines passenger isn't impressed with a gate agent and tweets about it. Then, he says, he's prevented from reboarding his flight unless he deletes the tweet.

Duff Watson, tweeter. CBS Minnesota screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

You are what you tweet.

But what you tweet might get you into terrible trouble with those who don't like it.

That's the tale being told by Duff Watson, who was flying with his family from Denver to Minneapolis last Sunday.

His chosen airline, as it is for so many, was Southwest. It's cheap and it used to be cheerful.

Watson, however, tells a tale of a Southwest gate agent who wouldn't give him priority boarding with his two kids -- aged 6 and 9 -- even though he's a so-called A-list flyer.

Among the A-list privileges is priority boarding, as well as a "dedicated A-list member phone line." The agent apparently ruled that Watson could board with priority, but his kids couldn't. Which does seem a touch haughty (though Southwest has warned about such restrictions specifically for those traveling during the holiday season).

Watson told CBS Minnesota: "In leaving I said, you know, 'Real nice way to treat an A-list. I'll be sure to tweet about it'."

But tweets have power. They can turn even the most jovial into vindictive, angry souls.

Watson says his tweet merely called the agent the rudest in Denver. However, he insists that when he and his kids finally boarded the plane, the agent came on board, told him that her safety felt threatened and that therefore the three of them had to be removed.

He said he didn't curse or make threats. He did say, however, that she forced him to delete the tweet before allowing him back on the plane.

Some might wonder how the busy agent managed to find the time to look at the tweet. Might she have been attracted to checking Twitter because Watson mentioned the gate number, as well as her first name and the initial of her last name? Those name badges can be pesky.

But did mentioning her name constitute a threat to her safety? I've seen quite a few tweets targeted at airlines that mentioned individuals and am not aware of any safety concern.

What's missing is the true tone of the exchange, which Watson described as "terse." Airline staff, though, are trained to deal with annoyed customers, of which every airline has more than a few.

Southwest issued a statement to confirm that a passenger was removed "for a short time" and that it is investigating.

I contacted the company to ask, among other things, whether passengers should be concerned about posting tweets critical of Southwest, for fear of being sanctioned. The company declined to comment. (Which might make me tweet about it.)

Watson says that despite getting an emailed apology from Southwest and being given $50 vouchers for him and his kids, he's not interested in flying Southwest again.

It may well be that this was a case of a gate agent having a bad day -- or just doing a bad job.

But tweets disappear quite quickly. The odor of bad customer service, as Comcast discovered last week, can linger longer.