Passenger Sues Airline After Being Forced to Share Sit With Obese Individuals

EY-Etihad-Airways-new-logo-EnBoeing_777-FFX,_Etihad_Airways_Cargo_AN2275000James Andres Bassos has an interesting lawsuit against Etihad Airways for a flight from Sydney to Dubai. Bassos charges that he was forced to sit next to a “grossly overweight” person and, as a result, injured his back in having to contort his body during the flight. The court in Brisbane, Australia decided that Bassos has a legitimate claim and declined to dismiss he lawsuit.

It may be the fact that I pulled my back on my flight to San Francisco, but this story struck me as particularly interesting given the continued struggle of airlines in dealing with obese individuals. Some airlines are insisting on such persons to purchase a second seat while other tell customers that sitting against an obese person is just a reality of air travel.

Bassos says that the crew was unhelpful and only allowed him to sit in a crew seat for a short period. He complained that the man was occupying part of his seat, and was into his seat, coughing frequently and had fluid coming from his mouth.

Judge Fleur Kingham ruled that this was no reason to strike out the claim.

This would make for an interesting trial as to the reasonableness of the airline in not mandating the purchase of a second seat or having an alternative accommodation for affected passengers. Airlines are in a tough position. They do not want to be accused of discrimination (and some countries are looking at discrimination or hate speech connected to “fatism”) while they also want to guarantee the safety and comfort of other passengers. Yet, weighing passengers and changing by weight is likely to set off a chorus of objections and add new inhibitions to flying.

29 thoughts on “Passenger Sues Airline After Being Forced to Share Sit With Obese Individuals”

  1. I’m a fat guy who knows physics. Weighing passengers should be no more controversial than weighing baggage, since weight affects the flying characteristics of the plane. What matters for purposes of this complaint is not weight, but size. No matter how much a passenger weighs, size, regardless of reason, affects the ability to sit in a seat. The airlines have tried to squeeze more revenue by reducing the space between seats and possibly the width of the seats. The new reality is that Americans and Europeans are getting hefty, and seat sizes (and prices) need to increase to accommodate that. Clothing can also be an issue. I tend to wear a photojournalist vest when I fly, because it has all sorts of compartments. I call it my wear on luggage. It adds bulk, and I should be properly measured wearing it. We have to put up with a certain amount of crap to be good neighbors, and we should be even more tolerant when flying because, first, there’s a certain randomness to the people on a given flight; and two, you’re in a skinny metal tube several miles in the air with very little support, so getting pissy won’t get you much of what you want and a lot of what you don’t want, particularly on a full flight where there is no place to move anyone. Bring a good book and suck it up.

  2. Paul – and we magically appear at 40,000 feet? We’re on the ground. You’re touching me. You’re going to get damaged.

    1. Fred – they have a tendency to throw people off planes for the slightest excuse. Hitting someone would go to the top of the heap.

  3. Touch me without my permission and your flight is going to end very quickly. Florida has very good defense laws.

    1. fred – once you are in the air, Florida’s self-defense rules no longer hold.

  4. Steg – thanks for pointing that out to me and Karen – sorry that I misread your post! It was a long week….

  5. This could all be done discretely by computers. I took my son to get new school shoes. They put his foot in a metal frame and blinking lights ran around the sides, measuring his foot with lasers. Then the machine ejected a ticket with his correct shoe size. The same technology could be used at the airport. Every passenger would pass through a metal frame embedded with lasers to read his/her girth. Then a ticket with a bar code is issued stating whether the passenger gets a regular or plus size seat. If the passenger booked a regular seat online, but finds he is required to buy the plus size, or two seats, he can upgrade at the computerized ticket terminal and pay the extra cost by credit card. No embarrassment involved. In fairness, if two passengers are traveling together, and one is big and the other small, for example, a fat parent with a young child, they should have the option of buying two regular seats, not three seats. It is only when an over-sized person is “trespassing” onto a non-consenting passenger’s seat that it becomes an issue. Every passenger should have the right to the full seat that he/she paid for, and not have to involuntarily share it with an oversized person who can’t fit into a regular seat.

  6. Reisling I think you missed Karen’s point… she said, “I agree with above posters that a simple turnstile or width marking the limit where anyone wider would be required to purchase an extra seat is fair. Of course no weighing.”

    I can agree with that. But as it stands, I think I’ll be driving everywhere from here on out. Unless someone is offering me a private jet…

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