Airline passenger claims she was removed from business class for being ‘too big’

An airline passenger is speaking out about the "horrific" experience she had on a recent flight, after she and her daughters were allegedly forced to move seats due to their weight. 

Huhana Iripa was on a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok, Thailand to Auckland, New Zealand — where she lives — when the alleged incident occurred. Iripa, 59, and her daughters Renell, 28, and Tere, 37, had each paid $1,727 ($2,650 NZD) for business class tickets so they could travel comfortably, the New Zealand Herald reports

"We were utterly humiliated in front of all the other passengers," Iripa said of the family's experience boarding the plane. "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.'"

Iripa said that exchange prompted several staff members to begin talking about them in a different language and looking at them "as if [they'd] committed a crime." The 59-year-old told Insider that one staff member eventually came forward and said, "No, 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," Iripa added. "Everyone was just standing [and] staring at us. The whole thing was disgusting."

Iripa told the New Zealand Herald that she "broke down in tears" as she and her daughters were moved to economy class for the 11-hour flight home

According to the New Zealand Herald, Iripa asked for a full refund following the flight but was instead offered the difference between the business class and economy tickets — approximately $815 ($1,250 NZD) each. The family later met with Thai Airways and were offered an additional $293 ($450 NZD), but Iripa refused. 

"For their rudeness, their disrespect and the trauma of what they put us through, how could they identify that price as compensation?" Iripa said.

However, Flight Centre, the travel agency that helped Iripa book the tickets, ultimately offered the family a full refund, with a company saying spokesperson saying she "shocked" to hear about the incident. 

Thai Airways, for its part, said the airline was forced to ask the family to move due to the type of plane — a Boeing 787 Dreamliner — their flight was scheduled to use. Wayne Cochrane, a spokesperson for the airline's New Zealand sector, told the New Zealand Herald that, due to an airbag design, extension seatbelts could not be added to the business class seats on that plane. 

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

In 2018, Thai Airways faced backlash for similar policies, after the airline announced it would not allow people with a waist of 56 inches or larger to sit in business class on particular flights. That rule, also reportedly based on airbag restrictions, applied only to the Boeing 787-9 model. 

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