Etihad Faces a Lawsuit in Australia for Sitting a Passenger Next to an Obese Person

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etihad sued obese passenger
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Etihad Being Sued in Australia

So it is Friday night, which I see as the perfect time for this interesting story I came across. Yes I tend to write about award travel and manufactured spending and I know some of you don’t like when I write about some of the lighter stuff, but I like to share what interests me.

Today I came across a story on CNN about an Australian passenger suing Etihad because he was reportedly hurt after sitting next to an obese passenger on a flight from the UAE to Sydney in 2011. The man, James Bassos claims he had to “contort and twist” to avoid the obese neighbor who he says coughed and “expelled fluid from his mouth.”

CNN quotes the lawsuit, “After repeated requests of cabin crew, Mr Bassos was given limited access to a crew seat but was still required to spend long stretches of time in a position which he claims caused a back injury and aggravation of an existing back condition.”

Etihad tried to have the lawsuit thrown out, stating that obese passengers are normal and thus they aren’t responsible, but the judge decided to order a medical evaluation which will happen in December. According to the Brisbane Times Etihad responded, “Etihad Airways will continue to oppose the action and now that Mr Bassos will finally face a medical assessment in December 2015, as directed by court, we believe that the matter will proceed to an early conclusion.”

My Take

This is an interesting case, because I am sure situations like this are somewhat common. It appears from the articles that Etihad let James Bassos sit in a crew seat when they could, but for security and other reasons, he had to return to his seat for other periods of time like the final portions of the flight.

The truth is that flying in coach is uncomfortable. I am not a small person (I fill up my seat nicely) and I can’t imagine what it would be like if I was stuck next to someone in coach who overflowed their seat. With that said, I am not certain that the airline is responsible, given that they are selling a product and I know what I am buying before getting on the plane. Plus, the mention of coughing and drooling makes me think this guy had some sort of prejudice against the neighbor.

I spent one of the worst nights of my life last year in coach on a KLM 747 from Amsterdam to Hong Kong. My neighbors were loud and in my space, the seats were uncomfortable and I was getting sick. In short, I felt like I wanted to die. Did I ask to be moved? No, I sucked it up and when I needed a break, I walked around and stood by the stairs to the upper deck. I purchased a coach seat. That is what I get.

Conclusion & Your Thoughts

This court case is in Australia, so it may not have an effect on worldwide airline policies, but a ruling against Etihad may just mean that severely obese people could see further scrutiny in the future. What do you think? Is this just a cash grab or does this guy have a legitimate point? Should airlines enforce stricter seating policies for larger people? Be respectful, but I would love to hear your opinions.

Shawn Coomer
Shawn Coomer earns and burns millions of miles/points per year circling the globe with his family. An expert at accumulating travel rewards, he founded Miles to Memories to help others achieve their travel goals for pennies on the dollar. Shawn also runs a million dollar reselling business, knows Vegas better than most and loves to spend his time at the 12 Disney parks across the world.

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  1. I’m with most other posters in thinking the injury claim is most likely BS.

    I do think that there should be some sort of standard for obese person ticketing practices around the globe. It’s unacceptable that an obese person takes up part of the coach seat I paid for because they are overflowing in to it. If you’re of a certain weight you should have to buy two tickets. If you don’t you’ll be denied boarding, bottom line. In the U.S. that seems to be the standard. I remember a few years back the director Kevin Smith was denied boarding because he is obese and didn’t purchase two tickets.

  2. […] Etihad Faces a Lawsuit in Australia for Sitting a Passenger Next to an Obese Person by Miles to Memories. If you don’t fit in your seat, you should have to pay for additional seats or premium cabins unless there is a medical reason – in which case the airline should be forced to accommodate you. I’ve had lots of flights where the person (or people) next to me have overflowed into my seat, it’s pretty uncomfortable and I think I am entitled to the full seat that I purchased. I don’t think this lawsuit will be successful and I understand it’s a difficult situation for airlines (and truth be told it’s not something that really bothers me, being quiet small has it’s advantages). […]

  3. Simple. Like airlines charge for oversize luggage, and restrict carry on bags that do not fit inside certain dimensions, oversize people, aka “passengers of size” as Southwest Air calls them, need to be screened before boarding and be charged for two seats if they overflow, or there can be a new “wide load” seating class.

  4. One other thing I want to mention is that if this case does go to full blown jury trial vs small claims/bench trial/settlement/plea bargain/etc then I want to watch this on TV if possible.

    I want to see how the attorneys ultra drill down and literally take apart “contort and twist within the seat to avoid the obese neighbor who coughed and expelled fluid from his mouth”. Total comedy hour.

  5. Ya. Lawsuit will get thrown out. So stupid.

    I dont know why the judge even bothered with a medical exam and didnt throw this out immediately. This is a joke.

    This situation is no different than a car accident personal injury case. First of all, medical evaluation in December is too late. Needs to be done ASAP to immediately determine if the fat guy really caused such physical harm as the Aussie claimed. Aussie guy better have evidence that Etihad was totally negligent of their duties for passengers safety.

    Pictures and eyewitness testimony from passengers and staff better prove that Etihad was not reasonably careful. Meaning “breaching” (or violating) the duty of care for passengers.

    Etihad can simply show that they were sufficiently careful and compare the airlines own conduct with the conduct expected from “reasonable” policies/procedures from other airlines.

    However, almost all airlines have policies on big people: Charge obese double on full flights.

    Therefore, if Etihad did not follow its own policies and allowed the super huge guy on the plane which caused “undue stress and harm” of the Aussie guy then maybe he has a case.

    At most, this case will revolve around whats called “soft tissue damage”. Meaning, its just minor physical discomfort so the case is worth jack shit unless he can upgrade this case to “Class Action” status which I doubt.

    Entertaining to see what happens.

    I also agree with you. Purchased a coach seat. That is what you get. Thats all. Nothing to complain about.
    Either be part of 99% or work your way to be 1% so no fat common peasants around you.

  6. @janol – what is interesting to note is that Etihad already appeared to have the case thrown out but the court refused to strike out the claim. Will be good to see how this pans out

  7. I don’t mind people suing the airlines for sitting next to an obese passenger. Sitting like that on a very long flight is not just uncomfortable but also a health risk.
    If the airline doesn’t help who will?
    My solution is the airline should have to step it up and require overweight people to buy 2 seats and if they don’t they could be denied boarding on a full flight. Another solution is to start asking planes be made to have a row or 2 of wider seats for larger passengers or block out middle seat like they do in inter Europe first class.

  8. Then we can surely sue for being forced to sit in a cramped space for extended periods of time. I was stiff when I stood up so I’ll sue. But then again that’s the definition of flying economy.

    I question any doctor who says he can so specifically attribute an injury to a single cause. That’s sure not my experience with the medical community.

    • Exactly. Looks like you have some background. NO DOCTOR, ESPECIALLY LATER IN DEC can so specifically attribute an injury to a single cause. Impossible. Case will be thrown out.

  9. Lawsuit will probably not fly, but this could bring back the discussion for fares being based upon weight or maybe girth, nothing worse than sitting next to someone that is oozing into your space on a 14hr flight.


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