Overweight woman left bruised and in tears after Air New Zealand flight

Author
Belinda Feek, NZ Herald,
Section
National,
Publish Date
Friday, 21 June 2019, 1:05PM
Nelson woman Rebekah Siame says she was left traumatised after being made to squeeze into a seat smaller than that she had paid for after being unexpectedly moved by Air NZ staff. (Photo / Supplied)
Nelson woman Rebekah Siame says she was left traumatised after being made to squeeze into a seat smaller than that she had paid for after being unexpectedly moved by Air NZ staff. (Photo / Supplied)

A Nelson woman says she was left traumatised after a harrowing Air NZ flight from Melbourne to Christchurch left her bruised and in tears.

Rebekah Siame is overweight so always books an aisle seat or pays extra to ensure she can get a spare seat next to her to avoid passing on any discomfort to a fellow passenger.

She's comfortable in her own skin, so much so, that she's even written a comical book, The Lighter Side of Large, about being a bigger, size 24, woman.

The self-employed businesswoman is also a regular flyer, both domestically and across the ditch.

She's never experienced a problem with a booking before but last month, on a return flight from Melbourne to Christchurch, was unexpectedly moved to a smaller seat, despite paying for an upgrade.

Siame said she paid about $150 extra for the "works deluxe" ticket, which claimed to "guarantee" a spare seat next to her.

After checking in, getting on board and looking at her boarding pass, she was horrified to see check-in staff had changed her seat.

She had been moved to a bulk head seat which has the entertainment system and meal tray built into the sides which meant there was even less room.

Author and businesswoman Rebekah Siame got this cartoon drawn up for her book The Lighter Side of Large published in 2012. Photo / Supplied

Author and businesswoman Rebekah Siame got this cartoon drawn up for her book The Lighter Side of Large published in 2012. Photo / Supplied

Siame said she actively avoided the bulk head seat due to there being less room, and if she couldn't upgrade her ticket to get the seat next to her, she always asked check-in staff if there were any spare when she arrived at the airport.

"Most of the time it works, unless of course it's a full flight, then it doesn't. But I'm very aware of everyone else around me as well and I've always been like that.

"I'm prepared to pay the extra so that I'm not encroaching on people's space."

She said it was the first time she had been moved from a seat - that she had paid extra for - and ended up in one which cut off her circulation.

"I was in obvious discomfort. I was crying ... I was really moving around in the seat, I couldn't get comfortable.

"My legs were actually losing sensation, the [blood] flow had stopped, my feet were going pins-and-needles numb. It was really horrifying what I had to endure.

"The air hostesses were sitting right there and didn't even say something."

She said she was too embarrassed to say something as it would just be another "humiliation".

"What are they going to do? They're going to move someone and then everyone else on that plane is going to know that I'm being moved because I can't fit in the seat. It was too embarrassing, too humiliating.

"In saying that, if they had have asked me I would have told them what's going on."

Rebekah Siame says she tries to choose aisle seats when on planes to try and avoid other passengers suffering discomfort. Photo / Supplied

Rebekah Siame says she tries to choose aisle seats when on planes to try and avoid other passengers suffering discomfort. Photo / Supplied

By the time she arrived in Christchurch she had bruising down the sides of both thighs. She went straight to the Air NZ counter to complain but was surprised to be given an email address to write to.

"So it's like the complaints process is ridiculous."

In their response, they said they moved her for a passenger with medical requirements and that all seats were subject to "operational requirements" despite the "guarantee" on the works deluxe ticket.

As for her size, Siame said she had a medical condition - hyperthyroidism - which meant her metabolism didn't work.

"I try. I eat healthy, exercise, but I can't lose weight.

"People just look at you and think you're lazy or don't have any motivation, but there's other reasons why people can be fat. In saying that, it's not everyone's business why someone is fat.

"I'm human, we should all be treated the same way. If you pay for something, you should get what you pay for."

After emailing and messaging Air NZ to complain, she was disappointed not to get an apology.

The incident had "absolutely" put her off flying with her favourite airline and she was now contemplating using Jetstar instead.

"Air NZ have had the monopoly for so long and they just don't give a damn about service anymore."

An Air NZ spokeswoman said the Works Deluxe fare offers "a guaranteed empty seat next to her" but doesn't guarantee a particular seat.

"While we will always endeavour to honour seating requests, under our Conditions of Carriage we cannot guarantee provision of any particular seat, even if a reservation is confirmed and we reserve the right to reassign seats should we need to for operational reasons.

"This was the case on Ms Siame's flight, where our team unfortunately needed to reassign Ms Siame's seat in order to accommodate another customer who required medical assistance as a result of a broken leg.

"This customer was travelling with an assistant and therefore we would have been unable to offer Ms Siame an empty seat next to her if she was seated in her original seat."

The spokeswoman said Siame checked in via a self-service kiosk, which would have alerted her to the seat change, and which she would have had to accept.

"According to our logs she did accept this change and this matter didn't come to the attention of our airport team.

"While we can appreciate Ms Siame's reasons for not alerting the crew on board to her discomfort, had they been made aware they could have moved her to a more comfortable seat with an empty seat next to her."

The airline didn't respond to the Herald's question about offering an apology.

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