Sam Cawthorn will hardly forget the flight from Perth to Brisbane of May 2nd 2014 after Virgin Australia cabin crew allegedly forced him to stand because of his disability.
A loyal Virgin Australia top tier frequent flyer, Mr Cawthorn is usually very appreciative of the service the airline provides. However, on his last flight from Perth to Brisbane thing went horribly wrong.
Sam Cawthorn, who is one metre 90 tall, has a fused leg which does not bend at all, and a prosthetic arm. Last Friday, upon boarding his flight to Brisbane, he realised the seat assigned to him was not suitable.
The flight purser moved the disabled man to a row of three empty seats. However, his fused leg extended into the aisle. Sam Cawthorn alleges his leg was hit by other passengers and a food trolley.
The passenger offered to pay for an upgrade to business class, but he was turned down because Virgin Australia’s upgrade procedure does not allow to process upgrades after boarding the aircraft. After being declined the paid upgrade Sam Cawthorn says he had no choice but to stand for three hours near the lavatory.
"I’m shocked as to why one of Australia’s best airlines would possibly put any of their passengers in a position where there was no choice but to stand for the duration of time between take off and landing,” Sam Cawthorn said. “There were many other suitable seats to which the cabin supervisor did not permit a seat change.”
“Once on board Virgin Australia cabin crew offered a number of options to Mr Cawthorn including a full row of seating and an aisle seat, as the guest originally selected. While on board Mr Cawthorn advised the seats were not suitable and he would prefer an exit row seat or a seat in business class, a spokesperson for Virgin Australia told Reduced Mobility Rights on Monday. “For safety reasons the guest was unable to sit in an exit row seat for take-off or landing as he was unable to operate the exit door in an emergency. “
The man could have easily been spared from having to stand for hours had the flight's purser granted Mr Cawthorn the courtesy of a late upgrade on compassionate grounds. “Guests are unable to be upgraded to business class once on board however, can request an upgrade up to 45 minutes prior to departure,” the airline’s spokesperson explained.
“It’s a case of policy getting in the way of common sense," Sam Cawthorn said. “I’m not bitter, I just want to ensure this never happens again.”
“There is no legal requirement for guests to advise Virgin Australia in advance if, and when, they have special requirements (including seating) however, our ability to facilitate these needs is extremely limited without prior notice,” Virgin Australia told Reduced Mobility Rights. “Guests are prompted through the booking process to advise us if they require special assistance. We are committed to providing a safe and enjoyable journey for all guests and will facilitate any request for special assistance where possible.”