An American Airlines passenger is suing the airline after he was allegedly “squashed” between two plump passengers on a flight from Sydney to Los Angeles. The ordeal supposedly left the man with permanent neck and back injuries.
The passenger, 67-year-old Michael Anthony Taylor from Wollongong, Australia, said that he had to resort to “crouching, kneeling, bracing or standing” during the 14-hour flight because the crew wouldn’t allow him to change seats or move to a jump seat. The Sydney Daily Telegraph reports that the man is seeking more than AU$100,000 (US$74,000) in damages from American Airlines.
According to Taylor, he was assigned to a window seat but shared the row with two rather large passengers. They were described in court documents as being “grossly obese.” Taylor said that the body of the passenger in the seat beside his “spilt over and encroached” into his seat.
“The airline could have put me in a crew seat or moved people around but they did nothing.”
He reportedly had no choice but to “contort his body into a series of positions including standing up, crouching, kneeling, and leaning forward.” The prolonged discomfort allegedly aggravated his pre-existing scoliosis (twisting of the spine) and left him with bruising on his neck as well as injuries to his upper and lower back.
Thomas Janson, Taylor’s lawyer, told News.com.au that his client repeatedly asked American Airlines staff if he could transfer to another seat.
“Mr Taylor asked the cabin crew on numerous occasions if he could sit in another passenger’s seat, or sit on one of the crew seats, or sit in the aisle or even to sit on the toilet seat to alleviate the pain and discomfort that he was suffering from.”
“On each occasion, he was refused and rebuffed,” he added.
According to American Airlines, the December flight was sold-out, with all passenger seats occupied. The airline clarified that passengers are not allowed to sit in the jump seats assigned to crew members because of United States federal regulations.
Still, Janson hopes that Taylor’s case will influence airlines to make economy seats more comfortable. “If Michael is successful, this throws open the doors to potentially a large amount of cases against airlines and how they’ve designed their seating and how they seat passengers,” he said.
“There will be a huge outcry against the way airlines furnish their cabins, particularly in economy.”
The lawyer also noted that Taylor’s case falls under the Montreal Convention, which covers airline liability for passenger accidents. “Given the small amount of area that passengers are afforded particularly when they fly in economy, and for that to be invaded by another passenger, the Montreal Convention we contend is relevant in this matter,” Janson said.
“It has to be unusual or unexpected — and Mr. Taylor’s injuries were certainly that.”
Despite his harrowing experience on the American Airlines flight, Taylor said that he doesn’t blame his seatmates.
“I don’t hold any malice towards the people in the seats next to me — they’d paid for a ticket too.”
American Airlines has 28 days to submit a formal response to the statement of claim filed by the passenger in the Federal Court of Australia on May 5. A spokesperson for the airlines said that they are still reviewing the allegations against American Airlines.
The Telegraph notes that the case is similar to one filed in 2016 by an Italian lawyer against Emirates airline after he reportedly suffered through a nine-hour flight beside an overweight passenger. Speaking of the Italian website Mattino, the passenger described his experience on the flight from Cape Town to Dubai.
“Ultimately for nine hours, I had to stand in the aisle, sit on seats reserved for the aircrew when they were free, and in the final phase of the flight, resign myself to suffer the ‘spillover’ of the passenger at my side.”
The American Airlines case is the latest in a string of reports about the unfortunate experiences of airline passengers. Recently, a California family was removed from a Delta Air Lines flight after an argument over their toddler’s seat. Meanwhile, the United Airlines passenger who was violently dragged off his flight last month reportedly reached a settlement for an undisclosed amount.
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