A woman claims TUI put her safety at risk after refusing to move an ‘obese’ traveller from the seat next to her.
Margaret Burton, 72, was travelling to Mexico with her husband when she says she suffered pain in her neck and arms for days after – and possibly even a blood clot – after being squashed next to the overweight passenger.
The disgruntled tourist claims to woman was ‘at least 24 stone’ and that her body blocked the armrest from being lowered, leaving her unable to follow the safety regulations onboard.
Despite being offered another seat elsewhere on the plane, Margaret refused to move from her husband – sat in the seat across the aisle – but instead insisted the larger woman next to her should be moved.
Great-grandmother Margaret claims cabin crew refused to move the unknown passenger for fear of embarrassing the woman.
She even says she was unable to put her table down as the woman’s ‘stomach interfered with her space’.
Margaret and her 75-year-old husband William Burton had paid £2,000 on the TUI holiday in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary in March last year.
The couple had pre-booked seats together for the 11-hour flight, with Margaret seated at the end of the row of seats and William on the other side of the aisle.
But she was dismayed when she was sat next to the ‘at least 24 stone’ passenger seated in the middle of her row of seats – who took up a third of Margaret’s adjacent aisle seat.
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After the passenger confirmed she would be on the same flight back to Gatwick, Margaret claims she felt ‘forced’ to pay £90 to be upgraded and avoid sitting next to her again.
TUI informed Margaret by letter that their ‘voluntary position’ was not to discriminate against any passenger and they would not have moved the woman to ‘protect the dignity and respect of that guest’.
Despite being refunded the £90 after complaining, Margaret is ‘still really angry’ and is calling on the holiday company not to compromise the passenger safety of those forced to sit next to overweight people to spare their embarrassment.
Margaret, from Sittingbourne, Kent, said: "I didn’t want to embarrass her. That would be the last thing I would do.
"But hey, this is my holiday as well that I paid two grand for. I paid for a full seat, I didn’t pay for half of your seat. It’s TUI’s problem to sort this out and do something about this."
"I’m still really angry about it. I’m really, really annoyed. I’m more annoyed because I’m being ignored.
"It seems to be a big cover-up with this armrest issue. It was the armrest that we couldn’t move.
"What concerns me is the armrest couldn’t be lowered, highered or moved at all during any time in the flight – including takeoff and landing.
"They put so much on it normally that all seatbelts and armrests must be in the proper position. It is a safety regulation.
"I’ve looked into this and Newton’s law, to quote something, says that it can cause serious bodily damage if there is an emergency landing and the armrest isn’t down.
"But when I mentioned this to the cabin crew they couldn’t – or wouldn’t – do anything to embarrass her. My safety, as well as hers, was put at risk because of this.
"Plus the fact that I couldn’t get my table down properly to eat off because the tops of her legs and stomach came out and interfered with my space.
"You wouldn’t believe it. She must have been about 24 stone. I’m no skinny person, I’m a size 14/16, but I fit quite comfortably into a seat.
"I have all sympathy with people that have obesity for medical reasons but also why should we pay for it?
"For the next two or three days I had pains in my shoulder and neck. I’m not silly, I did get up and walk around, but I wasn’t comfortable for the next two or three days of my holiday.
"The pain didn’t limit me on the holiday. It was just a chill out holiday. It didn’t stop us from doing anything because we didn’t have an awful lot planned – just a lazy holiday in the sun.
"But the pains weren’t very comfortable at all. Since then I have had a blood clot in my lungs.
"I spoke to my doctor at the hospital and he said it was a possibility that it was caused by the armrest, but we will never know.
"I was in hospital for five days with that. I travel four or five times a year and I’ve never had that before. It wasn’t nice.
"I’ve written to the Civil Aviation Authority four times. Everyone has ignored my letter. I’ve written to the Chief Executive Officer at TUI and he’s ignored my letter.
"It seems to be some cover-up on this armrest situation. That’s what I want to get to the bottom of.
"I really do feel that mine and her safety was put at risk because of this fear of embarrassment.
"I know it’s a sensitive issue but I’m sorry, embarrassment doesn’t come more important than my safety. That’s my main gripe.
"I would like for them to put passengers’ safety above passengers’ embarrassment."
Margaret claims she did speak to the passenger and suggest she move seats herself.
Margaret said: "I spoke to her on the flight. We booked aisle seats so we would get a bit of extra room. On this row of three was myself, this big lady in the middle and her friend who was quite tiny.
"I said to her about two hours into the flight ‘I’m not being rude but wouldn’t you be more comfortable if you sat on the end and swapped with your friend?’.
"She said ‘I’ve already asked her that but she won’t swap with me’.
"I thought, she’s a nice friend. She would have been fine sitting in the middle. She was a tiny one, about size 10 or 12.
"I felt really sorry for this woman, I really did, but there was nothing anyone else would do about it.
"She knew about the armrest. She knew we couldn’t get it down. I spoke to the cabin crew very discreetly but I’m sure she did know. I spoke to them several times.
"They didn’t say a word to her. When they spoke to me they bent down quite low and whispered to me. They were fully aware that they didn’t want to embarrass her."
Margaret claims she did speak to cabin crew and was offered a new seat, but rejected it due to not wanting to travel away from her husband for the long-haul flight.
The former holiday tour manager complained to TUI about the safety issues and claims that, despite being reimbursed the £90 upgrade, her complaint is being ignored.
She is particularly upset that the holiday company responded to her complaint in a letter and, rather than addressing her safety concerns, focused on the overweight passenger’s embarrassment.
In the letter, TUI said: "We are voluntarily in a position where we do not discriminate against passengers in any way.
"The crew on board would not have addressed the issue with the guest for these reasons, along with protecting the dignity and respect of that guest."
Margaret said: "They did offer for me to move seats but why should I? I was travelling on my 55th wedding anniversary.
"Why should I move seats and travel for 11 hours away from my husband? I had pre-booked that seat so that we could sit together.
"I don’t see why I should give up my seat for someone who might get embarrassed.
"My contract with TUI was for a certain size of seat. A 29-inch seat pitch I think it was, with a 16-inch width. That’s what I didn’t get.
"I didn’t want to sit next to her on the way back as well because it was horrendous on an 11-hour flight with only two-thirds of the seat.
"At the end of the day I paid for a full seat. I felt forced into buying an upgrade which cost me £90."
After Margaret pursued her complaint, TUI refunded her the £90 for upgrade.
However she is still unhappy that she only got ‘two thirds’ of the seat she paid for on the outbound flight and that the company have not addressed her concerns for passenger safety when sat next to overweight people.
A TUI UK spokesperson said: "We were sorry to hear about this case.
"When we were first contacted about it we issued a refund to the customer. As new information has now been provided, we’d like to investigate the matter further and will be in direct contact with Mrs Burton."
The Civil Aviation Authority declined to comment.
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