Thai Airways appears to become a permanent staple for bad news, this time they refused a group of female passengers their Business Class seats to Auckland because their body measurements weren’t compliant with Thai’s regulations and mishandled the situation terribly.
While this might sound totally alien to really have occurred, Thai Airways first made headlines about this about two years ago when the Dreamliner first came into service and the companies safety protocol didn’t allow passengers with waist wider than 56 inches in the business class seats due to limitations of the safety belt.
The New Zealand Herald had originally published the article on which several other media had picked up on in the meanwhile.
An Auckland woman and her two daughters were left traumatised after staff from Thai Airways said they were “too big” to sit in business class.
Huhana Iripa, 59, and her daughters Renell, 28, and Tere, 37, were accosted with measuring tapes ahead of their Bangkok to Auckland flight, with crew stating seatbelts in the high-end section of the aircraft would not reach to fit around them.
The daughters has been in Thailand for weight loss surgery and had each paid $2650 for the flights, including the business-class seats for the way back to ensure greater comfort.
Iripa said the experience was “horrific” and feels she and her family have 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’.
“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’.
“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, I broke down in tears. “Everyone was just standing staring at us. The whole thing was disgusting.” The trio were moved to three economy seats. …
After the ordeal, Iripa and her daughters complained and were offered a meeting with two representatives from Thai Airways.
The family asked for a full refund of their business-class seats, but were offered only the difference between the economy and business-class price which amounted to $1250.
The airline apologised and offered $450 in compensation, but Iripa and her daughters believed this wasn’t enough and requested the full balance of the tickets as recompense.
“For their rudeness, their disrespect and the trauma of what they put us through, how could they identify that price as compensation?” she said.
After being contacted by the Herald, Flight Centre – the travel agency the family had booked through – offered a full refund of their tickets.
This entire situation sounds like something out of the twilight zone.
I’m not getting the calculation of Refund + Compensation in the article. Would that be NZ$1250 refund plus NZ$450 compensation ($1700 total refund for a $2650 ticket)? If so the leftover for the entire round trip in Economy Class would be NZ$950 which isn’t bad at all. Except for the humiliation aspect as described here.
From the article I get however that their travel agent Flight Centre refunded them in full and possibly took the discrepancy as their own expense. Maybe they also felt a bit guilty because they didn’t tell the passengers about the limitation that lead to this situation?
The original NZ Herald article has a family photo of the passengers which I won’t re-post here since I don’t have the permission of the related parties and I think it would be distasteful. Only so much, the three ladies are big but not huge, however it’s a miracle to me how a travel agent would miss the fact that a passenger is of large statue.
In the case of B787 flights with Thai Airways (I come to that later) there should be a warning in the ticketing system for a ticketing agent that “large” passengers are subject to limitations. Has Flight Centre missed this or did the trio book the flight over the phone without showing up in the office? Could be an important detail.
But what is this all about in the first place?
When the Boeing 787 Dreamliner first entered service in 2018 Thai Airways established a safety protocol that passengers with waist size wider than 56 inches could not be accommodated in Business Class due to limitations of the safety belt that apparently can’t be extended.
The whole thing already made waves back then and I found an article in The Nation from 2018 where the entire matter has been discussed.
Flight Lieutenant Pratthana Pattanasirim, THAI’s director of security and flight standard division, said on Friday that a passenger with waist wider than 56 inches cannot fly business class on Boeing 787-9.
He explained that the business class seats have been installed with new safety belts and airbag system by the manufacturer in accordance with the safety standards of the US Federal Aviation Administration.
The safety belt cannot accommodate a passenger whose waist is larger than 56 inches.
Pratthana said the new safety-belt system cannot accommodate a parent with a child sitting on his or her lap hence parents travelling with young children also cannot fly business class on the Dreamliner.
THAI received the two Dreamliner planes in September last year and on March 6 announced that passengers with waist wider than 56 inches and carrying a lap-held infant could not fly business class.
While this information exists on the web when searching with the proper keywords I tried to locate this information on the Thai Airways website and didn’t find any such information. And let’s be honest who would search for something like this ahead of the flight, even as a person of larger size!?
I have contacted the press department of The Boeing Company to ask about the validity of this claim by Thai Airways and if this condition affects all 787 Dreamliners or just the aircraft delivered to Thai.
There are dozens of airlines who operate the Dreamliner and I have seen large passengers on board many times in Business Class. I have also asked three friends of mine who work as cabin crew for Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian and even Thai Airways. None of them have ever heard about this restriction.
Good that Flight Centre stepped up here and provided a full refund, probably getting in touch with their Thai Airways liaison and making them to eat the cost. It’s simply an embarrassing situation when something like this happens and the blame here lies with the carrier first not making the rule visible to customers and travel agents but also not having competent check-in staff / supervisors that can react appropriately, as in handling things such as measuring people in an area that provides privacy.
That regulation exists and there is little that can be done against it but maybe Thai should start to train their ground staff better. While I feel that TG cabin crew is generally competent, the drones that work at Bangkok Airport are often totally out of it. Last month the lady wanted to see a visa for Germany as I was flying to Frankfurt on a one way flight – with a German passport!