Thai Airways Allegedly Refused To Fly Business Class Passengers Because They Were “Too Big”

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Three New Zealand women were allegedly denied business class seats on a Thai Airways flight to Auckland in January because they were too big to fly in the seats. It was not a ‘smooth as silk’ experience for them.

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Thai Airways refused to let three women travel in business class because the seatbelts wouldn’t fit them. Photo: 23144228 via Wikimedia Commons.

Thai staff check woman’s waistline with a tape measure

An Auckland woman, Huhana Iripa, 59, and her two daughters, Tere, 37, and Renell, 28, were ticketed to fly business class on TG49. This is Thai’s overnight Boeing 787-9 service through to Auckland.

At Bangkok, the three women were reportedly “accosted” by Thai staff with measuring tapes. Staff measured the waistline of one of the daughters. Thai staff then said the women were too big to use the seatbelts installed in the business class cabin of the 787-9. The trio were then bumped down to economy class for the 11-hour overnight flight.

The story was reported in the New Zealand Herald over the weekend. According to the report, the three women ranged in from size 22-26.

The experience was described as humiliating

Huhana Iripa says they were discriminated against because of their size and that the experience was humiliating.

“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’.

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“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’.

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“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.”

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The incident happened at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport in January 2020. Photo: Oliver Mallach via Flickr.

Back in New Zealand, Ms Iripa took the matter further and complained to Thai Airways who offered to pay the family the balance between the business class and economy class fares. That didn’t mollify Ms Iripa. Fortunately for her, the agency that sold her the tickets, Flight Centre, stepped up and offer to refund the full cost of the tickets.

Simple Flying has reached out to Thai Airways to confirm the version of events printed in the New Zealand Herald. We also asked the airline if they had anything to say on the matter. We haven’t heard back from Thai.

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This is policy

If you think this is just a case of some ground staff gone rogue, think again. Thai Airways effectively banned passengers with a waistline of more than 56 inches from flying business class in 2018.

Why? Because at the time, Thai Airways took delivery of its first 787-9 Dreamliners and the seatbelt airbags in business class on the 787-9s won’t fit people with waistlines larger than 56 inches. Normally seatbelts can be extended, but the airbag mechanism prevents this.

It also prevents passengers from carrying toddlers on their laps, relegating them back to economy class. This may be a blessing or disguise depending on your point of view regarding toddlers in the pointy end.

New seatbelt not usable with seatbelt extender

Arizona’s AmSafe makes the seatbelts for Thai’s 787-9 Zodiac Cirrus business class seats. Normally a seatbelt extender can be used to safely secure toddlers and larger passengers. But because the airbag needs to be centered over the passenger’s waist, an extender would interfere with the effectiveness of this particular seatbelt and make it less safe.

“The airbag deploys up and away from the seated passenger … providing protection to the head, neck and torso.”

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Thai operates an exclusively wide-bodied fleet and your chances of drawing a Dreamliner are reasonably slight. Photo: Toshi Aoki via Wikimedia Commons.

Thai Airways is a little unusual in that all of its fleet is comprised of widebody aircraft, ranging from six A380s down to two Boeing 787-9s (and six 787-8s). The 787s make up only 10% of its fleet. Unfortunately for Ms Iripa and her daughters, the aircraft is deployed on the New Zealand run.

A significant design flaw

Most people would agree that it makes eminent sense for a larger passenger to fly business class if they can. A bigger seat is more comfortable for them and the people around them.

So, it does seem a significant design flaw that Thai’s new business class product cannot accommodate them. It is even odder that they are relegated back to economy class and squeezed into smaller seats.

Keeping passengers safe is important. Thai has previously said it will not compromise on this. But Thai Airways really needs to get a seatbelt that can accommodate all body types and until it does, it needs to find a better way to bump passengers than with tape measures.

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