Aviation

“Utterly humiliated”: Kiwis denied business class seats by Thai Airways because of their size

A New Zealand family have been left “utterly humiliated” after staff from Thai Airways said they were “too big” to sit in their business class seats.

Huhana Iripa, 59, and her daughters Renell, 28, and Tere, 37, reportedly had their waists measured with tape measures by Thai Airways staff in front of a plane full of people ahead of their Bangkok to Auckland flight, before being barred from their seats.

The family had purchased business class seats worth more than NZ$2,500 (over $2,415) but were forced into economy class.

Crew claimed the trio were “too big” to be seated in their chosen seats, and stated the seatbelts in business class would not reach to fit around them, the New Zealand Herald reported.

Speaking to the outlet, Huhana Iripa said the experience was “horrific” and felt she and her family had been discriminated against because of their body shapes, which at the time ranged from a size 22–26.

“We were utterly humiliated in front of all the other passengers. We went up to business class check-in and the member of staff on the desk looked at us and said ‘sorry you can’t’”, she told the Herald.

“The next thing, there were about five members of staff all around talking in their native language, shaking their heads and looking at us as if we’d committed a crime.

“A staff member then came forward and started saying ‘no, you’re too big, you’re too big’,” Iripa said.

“She then pulled out a measuring tape and wrapped it around my daughter Renell, moving her arms outstretched, before trying to do the same to me and Tere.”

At this point, Huhana said, she broke down in tears. “Everyone was just standing staring at us. The whole thing was disgusting,” she said.

In 2018, Thai Airways enacted a controversial policy disallowing passengers from business class seats on Dreamliner 787-900 aircraft if their waists were bigger than 56 inches (little over 142 centimetres).

The Iripa family were travelling on a Dreamliner 787-900.

Flight Centre to review process to “ensure this doesn’t happen again”

Flight Centre, which the family used to book their tickets, offered a full refund to the family following their ordeal.

Following their ordeal, Huhana and her daughters complained and were offered a meeting with two representatives from Thai Airways.

The family reportedly asked for a full refund of their business class seats but were instead offered only the difference between the economy and business class price, which amounted to NZ$1,250 (more than $1,206).

The airline apologised and offered NZ$450 (around $434) in compensation, but the family believed this wasn’t enough and requested the full balance of the tickets as recompense, the Herald reported.

Flight Centre – the travel agency the family had booked through – offered a full refund of their tickets.

“I was shocked to hear of Huhana’s experience. We have apologised to her directly and refunded her in full,” Flight Centre general manager product Victoria Courtney told the Herald.

“We are now reviewing our processes to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Travel Weekly has contacted the aircraft’s manufacturer, Boeing, for comment, along with Thai Airways.

However, a New Zealand spokesman for Thai Airways International provided the following statement:

“The new 787-900 Dreamliner aircraft used on flights between New Zealand and Thailand is fitted with integrated airbag seatbelts in business class.

“The extension seatbelt normally used to accommodate oversize passengers cannot be fitted to the airbag seatbelts; therefore passengers not able to fit the standard airbag seatbelt cannot be carried in business class.

“As this issue involves passenger safety, I am sure you will understand that we cannot compromise on this,” he said.

Featured image: Thai Airways Boeing Dreamliner 787-900 (Flickr/Aero Icarus)

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