An Australian man is suing Etihad because his seat opponent on a Sydney – Abu Dhabi flight was:
- “grossly overweight”
- “coughing frequently and had fluid coming from his mouth”
Apparently the man unhappy with his luck in seat neighbor was allowed to move to a crew seat after sitting in his own seat for five hours. However, when crew needed those seats he twice had to return to his own assigned seat (“once for another hour and then again for the final 90 minutes of the flight”).
He claims his back was harmed, and wants compensation. Since the coughing and fluid isn’t related to the back injury, that’s just color (and gross). The claim is, presumably, that a combination of the seat itself and the limitations on his space imposed by the man next to him caused his injury.
And he’s suing the airline, and not the person in the next seat, presumably because the airline has greater resources.
Boarding an Etihad Flight.. Not Knowing Who Will Be Seated Next to You
Etihad, for its part, says having a large passenger sit next to you isn’t unusual. It may not be pleasant, but it’s a known hazard of economy flying.
My first thought was the alternative, that a judgment for the plaintiff would be endorsing, is larger economy seats which take up more space on the plane – and thus more expensive tickets for everyone.
That’s not right though: there’s also “the Southwest alternative” which is that a passenger of size could be required to purchase two seats, be guaranteed those two seats next to each other, and refunded the cost for one of them if the flight doesn’t go out full.
For the no good deed goes unpunished file, Southwest has faced boycott calls over the policy.
- It sucks to have to sit next to someone who limits your space
- It’s not comfortable for them either
- It’s tough to say they ought to spend more money to travel, but it strikes me as the least-bad alternative with the lowest cost all around.
- Not everything that’s uncomfortable ought to be actionable, and it’s not obvious that the airline did anything improper here.
Sometimes unfortunate situations occur, being uncomfortable on a long flight is one of those. If real injury occurred that’s doubly unfortunate, although one’s always skeptical of claims of ‘exacerbating previously existing back conditions’ in the context of a lawsuit.
I’m not even sure how different this is (passenger infringing on lateral space) than when a passenger reclines their seat (and limits your forward space).
And this is one reason why I do my very best to leverage miles to travel in a premium cabin, even though my miles would yield more trips in coach.
Etihad Business Class
The alternative, of course, is to sue.
(HT: Carrie C.)