A woman in Pender County is speaking out after a very unpleasant experience with US Airways. She was flying from Wilmington to Fort Lauderdale and was seated next to two obese passengers who literally spilled into her seat during the second leg of that trip.
Michelle Biele wanted to make it very clear she is not trying to be insensitive to overweight passengers, but she says US Airways' failure to address the issue on her flight put her in an extremely awkward and physically uncomfortable position.
"The arm rest would not come down. Her bottom was across my seat and onto my leg," Biele explained of her experience on a roughly two hour flight from Charlotte to Ft. Lauderdale.
Biele - who suffers from bulging discs in her back - was forced to contort her body to accommodate the two passengers in her row who she says were each over 300 pounds.
"I couldn't spread my legs apart to put my bag under the seat, I had to hold my bag. And [the flight attendants] didn't even say anything to me about it because they knew I couldn't move," Biele said.
Biele says she tried to get help but the flight attendants wouldn't even make eye contact with her. After the flight landed, she explained they apologized, saying there was nothing they could do, because the flight was full.
Biele wrote to US Airways, asking for a refund since wasn't able to fully occupy the seat which cost her about $400. After initially dismissing her complaint, they offered to give her discount on a future flight.
But Biele says that's not addressing the larger problem. She says airlines already have limits on baggage size, and for the comfort and safety of all passengers, she thinks US Airways (which recently merged with American Airlines) should have a better plan in place for oversize passengers as well.
"There should be a disclaimer that if you take up more than your portion of the seat, and are unable to put the armrest in the position that they belong in, that you should have to purchase another seat," she said.
We reached out to US Airways/American Airlines for comment. A spokeswoman tells us it is their policy to require passengers who require a seat belt extender and exceed the width of their seat to have a second seat.
If larger passengers don't book an extra seat in advance, gate agents may have to ask them to wait for a later flight if no empty seats are available on the first flight. The airline recommends that oversize passengers let them know in advance if there may be issues fitting into the seat, so that gate agents and flight attendants can accommodate them as discreetly as possible.
American Airlines says they recognize the sensitive nature of this topic, but have this policy in place to ensure a safe and comfortable travel experience for all passengers.
Biele tells us that because of her back problems, she waits until the end of the boarding process to get on the plane. The airline spokeswoman speculated that flight attendants may not have realized there was a problem until the flight was about to take off, and that may explain the deviation from their standard policy.
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