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Airline Measures Passengers’ Waists, Tells Them They’re Too Fat to Fly Business Class

Airline Measures Passengers’ Waists, Tells Them They’re Too Fat to Fly Business Class
Jennifer Billock

Thai Airways is in the news yet again for weight-related discrimination, this time for denying three women their seats in business class after saying they were too big for the seats and measuring them in public view of other passengers; it echoes a 2018 incident where the airline “banned fat people.”

In 2018, news stories around the world said Thai Airways “banned fat people” due to a size restriction on their Dreamliner 787-900 business-class seats. Passengers with 56-inch or larger waists were not allowed to sit in the seats due to an integrated airbag.

Now, Thai Airways is in the news again for denying three women—Huhana Iripia and her two daughters, Renell and Tere—their business class seats and allegedly humiliating them in front of other passengers.

The Incident

Iripa’s daughters had gone to Thailand (with their mom as moral support) for weight-loss surgery, flying economy on the way there and paying $2,650 for business class seats on the way back. But on the return flight, they were denied seats in business class for being too big and were publicly measured with a measuring tape.

“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 told the NZ Herald. “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.’ 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. At this point, I broke down in tears. Everyone was just standing staring at us. The whole thing was disgusting.”

The Airline’s Response

According to Iripa, Thai Airways’ response was less than ideal. The airline apologized and offered only $450 refund for each of them instead of the full business class price.

“The new 787-900 Dreamliner aircraft used on flights between New Zealand and Thailand is fitted with integrated airbag seatbelts in business class,” Thai Airways International New Zealand spokesman Wayne Cochrane told the NZ Herald. “The extension seatbelt normally used to accommodate oversize passengers cannot be fitted to the airbag seatbelts; therefore passengers not able to fit the standard airbag seatbelt cannot be carried in business class. As this issue involves passenger safety, I am sure you will understand that we cannot compromise on this.”

Flight Centre to the Rescue

The family booked their trip through the Flight Centre travel agency, which offered the three of them a full refund of their tickets. The women were not told about the seat restrictions when they booked through the agency.

“I was shocked to hear of Huhana’s experience,” Flight Centre general manager product Victoria Courtney told the NZ Herald. “We have apologised to her directly and refunded her in full. We are now reviewing our processes to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

View Comments (9)


  1. alangore


    February 19, 2020 at 7:37 am

    This makes no sense. Every other airline in the world is trying to encourage passengers of the nutritionally enhanced persuasion to do a class upgrade to J or F so they will fit in the larger seat.

  2. LukeO9

    February 19, 2020 at 9:18 am

    You can now add one more thing to the many reasons for not being fat.

  3. ezefllying

    February 19, 2020 at 9:47 pm

    I understand why Thai has this requirement — as the story notes, it’s due to the design of the particular airbag/seatbelt system in its business-class seats — but, if the affected passengers’ recollection is even mostly accurate, it sounds like Thai really botched how it handled this incident.

    Chiding someone, “you’re too big,” and then indiscreetly pulling out a measuring tape and wrapping it around a customer at a busy check-in desk is not acceptable. First, someone — I don’t know if it was Thai or the travel agency — erred by not more clearly conveying the policy up-front. More immediately, though, if Thai wanted to measure (or exclude) the passengers, a manager should have come out, taken them aside, spoken with them privately and respectfully, and proposed alternatives if any existed. And a $450 partial refund only adds insult to injury.

    There are ways of enforcing unpleasant rules. Thai should identify them.

  4. fotographer

    February 20, 2020 at 3:38 am

    feel for them, at least the booking agent refunded their tickets..
    sorry but shame on Thai, there is no reason for that kind of nonsense.

  5. drphun

    February 21, 2020 at 9:05 am

    It sounds like a weird joke: “You are too fat to fly in business class so you have to fly in coach.” Are we sure airlines have not been doing this for some time?

  6. dhacker

    February 21, 2020 at 11:54 am

    They should have paid to fly them in business class on an airline that didn’t make the terrible decision to install those airbag seat belts.

  7. NoleATL

    February 25, 2020 at 5:40 am

    Sounds like the real problem is the “integrated airbag seatbelt in business class”.

  8. crunchie

    May 5, 2020 at 8:34 am

    TG front line staff handled this very poorly.

    Coach seats actually do work but rather uncomfortably. I’ve sat beside pax that took up 2 seats in coach with the arm rest raised more than a couple of times back when I traveled weekly.

    56 inches is a lot of waist. As a species, unless it’s a medical cause, we really need to lighten up. Our skeletal structure, internal organs layout and physiology really were designed like polar bears to handle all that fat. We need to make better decisions for our own sake.

  9. weero


    May 5, 2020 at 11:15 pm

    What a terrible design fluke for a Biz seat.

    I hate these fat seat belts in some modern biz seats. SQ’s regional belts are so heavy, it feels like you are wearing body armor …..

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