A passenger on Etihad Airways who claims he was seated next to a wheezing, dribbling, “grossly overweight” man is suing the airline.
James Andrew Bassos, 38, from Brisbane, says he suffered health issues because his seat neighbour was so obese he spilled over into Bassos’ seat, forcing him to twist and contort his body during a 14-hour flight from Abu Dhabi to Sydney.
A document lodged with the District Court of Queensland provides a summation of Bassos’ claim for damages, which it states arose from being “assigned to a seat next to a grossly overweight person”. It reads:
“James Bassos travelled economy class on an Etihad Airways flight from Abu Dhabi to Sydney in October 2011. He claims he was forced to twist and contort his body to avoid contact with his neighbouring passenger, a very large man whose body encroached into his seat.
“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.”
Bassos’ claim says the obese man also “frequently coughed and expelled fluid from his mouth” during the flight.
After five hours of flight, Bassos says he asked to be moved away from his bulky fellow traveller but was refused, though he was later allowed to sit in a crew seat.
The lawsuit claims he had to return to his seat next to the obese man later for another hour, and again for the final 90 minutes of the flight.
His lawyer told the Daily Mail that Bassos has no complaint against his overweight fellow traveller. The lawyer contends, however, that Etihad should reveal the identity of the grossly overweight passenger, feeling that disclosure of the man’s size would add weight to his client’s case.
Lawyers for Etihad applied to the court to strike out Bassos’ statement of claim, arguing that the claim ought to be dismissed summarily “because the facts alleged by Mr Bassos do not constitute an accident” under the applicable rules.
“The presence of overweight passengers who take up too much space in the cramped conditions of economy class is not unexpected or unusual. Nor is a passenger coughing an unexpected or unusual event.”
Bassos strenuously contested those propositions.
“I am not satisfied that Mr Bassos has no reasonable prospects of establishing his claim,” District Court Judge Fleur Kingham stated.
“It is not accurate to dismiss the claim as one arising from cramped conditions which are usual and to be expected.”
The judge refused to strike out the claim and ordered Bassos to undergo medical assessment on 17 December 2015.
Etihad Airways said it would “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.
“The safety and comfort of Etihad Airways’ passengers and crew is of paramount importance and the airline has a zero tolerance policy towards unruly behaviour.”
Written by Peter Needham