Neighbours: An Australian saga of airline passengers

By | Category: Travel rumblings

A380_Standard.jpgFrom Queensland in Australia comes an everyday tale of airline passengers which could have ramifications down the line for airline passengers.

James Andres Bassos took Etihad to court for seating him next to an obese man whose body overlapped onto the seat in which Bassos sat. He claimed in court that the size of the un-named man cause him to sit in such a way that he aggravated an old back injury. On asking to be re-seated he was at first refused and then, on the second occasion, he was moved to a crew seat but he had to return to his own seat “for security reasons” for the remaining ninety minutes of the flight.

Brisbane District Court Judge Fleur Kingham dismissed Etihad’s application to strike out the case and said Mr Bassos had prospects to take the case further in court. She ordered that Etihad pay for Mr Bassos’s travelling costs for a scheduled doctor’s visit in December this year. Etihad is fighting this, claiming cramped conditions from overweight passengers was not unexpected or unusual and therefore had no legal “weight.” (I don’t think the lawyers or the airline realised this pun otherwise they may have opted for a different expression.)

The eventual significance of this case – if Mr Bassos is successful – would seem to be that it imposes an additional duty of care on airlines to ensure that passengers enjoy comfort or, at the very least, any existing condition is not exacerbated. Australian law is not international law but I am sure that any court would be made aware of this case if successful.

Airlines would probably fight this tooth and nail because they would almost require each passenger to make them aware of medical ailments and to decide on how and where to seat them in order to minimise any discomfort. Ambulance chasing lawyers could have a field day in just raising this sort of case with airlines. But for passengers, the best outcome would be a widening of seats so that the increasing size of passengers was taken into account. Most airlines rely on widths that were common decades ago when passengers were, on average, smaller.

But since the medical for Mr Bassos isn’t until December, and I don’t understand why it is so far away, this case won’t be decided for well over a year. And that’s before the appeal process starts!



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