Airline Says British Couple "Too Old" to Sit in Emergency Exit Row

Max Braun, flickr

A couple in their seventies was told they were "too old" to sit in emergency exit row seats by airport check-in staff, reported London's Telegraph on Friday.

Marion Webb, 77 and husband Derek, 79, had paid an extra $150 for seats with extra leg room on Thomson Airways, but when they arrived at Bristol International Airport in the UK, the couple was told they would not be able to operate the door in an emergency.

The couple, from England, said they felt "hurt, humiliated and angry" by their treatment.

Mrs. Webb, a retired librarian, told the Telegraph: "We offered the young lady at the check-in desk our passports and tickets. She asked us to wait while she made a telephone call.

"We knew there seemed to be a problem so after about 10 minutes, in an effort to be helpful, we told her we had already been allocated our seats online.

"She said, 'Yes, I know, but you are too old to have exit seats.' We were not only hurt and humiliated, but angry."

The Webbs believe they are in good enough shape to follow rules set forth by the Civil Aviation Authority, which say passengers must be able to operate emergency exit doors. There is no age limit set on the emergency exit door seats.

The couple said they traveled in emergency exit seats twice in 2009 -- once on the same airline -- and feel as though they have been discriminated against due to their age.

Thomson Airways staff eventually allowed the couple to sit in their previously booked seats on the March 15 flight to Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. However, on the return flight home the airline had changed the couple's seats without their consent. The couple was placed in seats that were not in the emergency exit as they expected, and were not even seated together. They had paid around $3,600 for the roundtrip flight, plus the additional fee for seats with extra legroom.

Mrs. Webb told the Telegraph: "Thomson must adopt a clear and cohesive policy about selling extra leg room seats. Being elderly does not automatically make one frail. People can be frail at any age. I do not want this to happen to us or to any one else in the future."

A spokesman for Thomson said the airline "is required to follow regulations put in place by the Civil Aviation Authority, which state that customers must have the 'strength and full mobility' to open the emergency exit doors if required.

"Given these regulations, Thomson Airways recommends that customers choosing to sit in these seats must not be elderly and frail. Our retail staff saw no reason why the couple would not be able to meet these requirements and booked the seats for the couple.

''Thomson Airways uses a third party to provide handling services at UK airports and in Mr. and Mrs. Webb's case they were checked in by a Servisair representative. These representatives are required to ensure the CAA regulations are enforced at check-in.''

''Thomson believes it was right to sell these seats to Mr. and Mrs. Webb. However, it would like to apologize to the couple for any distress caused during the check-in process and for not providing consistent information.''
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