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. Karen, No! Why should we all have to weigh ourselves just because some people are too fat to fit into one seat? Think about it. That would add yet more data collection to the whole process. We give them enough information already! Also, there you go, punishing everyone for something a few people do (eat too much). I hate that. Airlines say their job is to transport people. Well, maybe they should put a disclaimer on that stating “just skinny short people”. People are getting fatter and fatter. How do the airlines respond? They make the seats smaller and smaller. Flight attendants are paid slave wages and therefore don´t have any motivation to help the passengers with their upset children and airsickness, which is what makes flying so miserable. It´s all about money, but since people are willing to be treated like cattle in order to fly cheaply that´s what we get.

  2. They make airline seats so tiny now, with so very little leg room, that it’s already quite uncomfortable. If there is any circumstance where you lose part of that precious scrap of seat, whether it’s from an overweight neighbor, someone’s purse they won’t take off their arm, or anything else, then it can be literally impossible to make it through the flight without pulling your back, or at least being very uncomfortable. And that can be a safety issue, as well, if you’re trying to fly 8 hours sideways and cannot be buckled in appropriately.

    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’m not overweight but TSA would have to use a taser to get me on a scale in a crowded airport. They should make a point to disclose what that width is, and how to measure it, so that people can measure themselves in the privacy of their own homes and avoid any surprises at the airport. At the airport, the turnstile should be in a discreet, screened area, so that all efforts are made not to embarrass anyone.

    And, yes, the reality of airline travel is that we will all be crammed in to airplanes with upset children, babies who spit up, people who sweat or get airsick, and overweight people, and we should all do our best to bear up without complaint, unless you really cannot sit comfortably for the entire flight.

  3. Americans are fatter than ever. And as we export out toxic food “culture” abroad and then mass migrate them all back for cheap labor here, we will surely suffer more.

  4. Fat shame opportunity… Thanks Mr. Turley. Wonderful contribution to humanity, this fat shaming of your’s.
    Say, you don’t have to fly…

  5. How about this idea. Maybe the airlines should quit treating passengers like sardines and have adequate room for passengers. Then, those who are still too large can be required to purchase a second seat. I have been on more than one flight with an oversized seat-mate, but even when that isn’t the case, at just under 5’3″, I shouldn’t have to have the problems with leg room that I do now.

  6. @ Tin Ear

    I like that idea. Set up a turnstile type of gate that says if you can’t walk through this (without turning sideways or other contortions) you must buy two seats.

    Kind of like the signs at the amusement park where you must be “this” tall to use this ride.

    The other issue of discomfort in flying is the lack of leg room. So if you are a tall man or woman, you can’t sit with your legs in a comfortable position and end up twisting sideways.

    Air travel just sucks anymore.

  7. I don’t know that weighing passengers make sense, because the issue is how wide they are, regardless of the reason. The airlines could have a “if you are wider than this this” signboard that requires the passenger to buy a wider seat or an extra seat. (Similar to the boxes they have that if your luggage won’t fit in, you pay extra.) that approach would focus on the real issue – that each passenger is entitled to the full seat that he pays for – and allow the airlines to avoid the uncomfortable business of deciding who is too fat and all the negative issues that go with that. Beware though, that this could impact males who are NOT fat. As a daily subway rider, I’ve noticed that men who are not fat, but have big frames, take up more of the seat due to their width than some very fat women whose fat deposits are on the front and back of their bodies, not so much the sides.

    1. TinEar – they could have “If you are wider than this you have to buy two seats.”

  8. If you are so fat that you can’t fit into a normal seat and refuse to pay for two seats…..I suggest the cargo hold.

  9. If we pay by the pound, anorexics and meth heads will be flying more frequently.

  10. It’s clearly a mistake to allow the airlines to pretend that all people are exactly the same size. There is a case here for international agreements on provision for larger passengers and those inconvenienced by the failure of such provision (spare seating).

    Meanwhile, the courts should make the airlines feel the pain of their failure to budget for quite foreseeable eventualities. If they can design an airliner that can fly with ice on the wings, they know how to avoid creating these artificial problems.

  11. As long as people are willing to go through torture just to save a few bucks we´re gonna have these terrible conditions. People keep getting fatter and the airlines keep reducing seat size. Before the fall of the iron curtain you also didn´t have passsengers from the former East Block on your flight. Once I had to sit next to a fat Russian man who hadn´t bathed since who-knows-when. He smelled like he had been up all night smoking and drinking vodka. Blechhhh. And then their was the Air Canada flight on which I was the only person who wasn´t an Indian national. Plane smelled like sweaty curry. Add to all that the fact that young people in Germany aren´t capable of taking the train to somewhere in Europe and pitching a tent like mom and dad did in the 80s. No…..you must go to New Zealand or India of South America or don´t bother going anywhere – which is only made possible by plane tickets being too cheap.

  12. Tickets should cost per pound. Pay at the pump. Someone who weighs 400 lbs will pay for two seats. Everybody wins. Someone who is that obese is forced to pay more in almost every other aspect of their life: food, clothes, chairs-keep breaking, etc. so why not airfare?

  13. I do think it is time that airlines deal with over-weight passengers. Generally, I have been lucky with my flying companions, but a couple of times it has been dicey. The fact that I have a normal BMI helps. 🙂

  14. Sat next a really obese lady from Frankfurt to NY.

    She took 1/3 of my seat and sweated profusely. In fact we exchanged more body fluids than most sexual encounters generate.

    Realities of flying coach today. Add the indignities of TSA and my world has gotten a lot smaller – by my choice.

    So be it; Colorado is a great place.

  15. It is high time that these fat f*cks either be charged for two seats or be denied boarding!!

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