A Victorian woman says she was brought to tears by a “horrific experience” dealing with Jetstar staff when boarding a flight in Sydney.
Now, she is calling on the budget airline – and other airlines – to improve their policies around how they cater to the needs of plus-size passengers.
Holly Richards, a former journalist who now runs her own plus-size brand AmpleFolk, is an Australian size 28-30. She had bought two seats for her flight to Avalon, Victoria on Saturday to ensure she and other passengers would be comfortable.
It is something she has done a handful of times in the past six months.
“There are clearly no policies for catering to the needs of plus-size passengers,” she told news.com.au.
“That means there are no processes set up to easily allow someone to book two seats for themselves whether that’s for personal comfort or to avoid encroaching on the space of others.”
Ms Richards said “at the very least” there should be an indication on a passenger’s boarding pass that they have purchased an extra seat, and she believes this would have helped her avoid her upsetting experience on the weekend.
Ms Richards said she booked the two seats over the phone and was told to check in online but then go to the counter at the airport.
She did so and was told “everything was sorted” and to proceed to the gate for boarding.
But that was when the issues began, she said.
Sharing her experience on social media, Ms Richards said two “incredibly rude” staff weighed her carry-on bags (a handbag and small suitcase) and told her she was 3kg over.
She took her drink bottle out, which brought the bags down to 2kg over the allowance.
“I very reluctantly tell her I have actually purchased an extra seat and so surely less than 2kg over is OK seeing as technically that extra seat comes with another 7kg of carry-on luggage allowance,” she explained. But she said the staff member did not agree with this.
Ms Richards said she was also told her CPAP machine for her sleep apnoea was not considered a medical device exempt from the carry-on baggage allowance.
She said the staff member eventually agreed to get their manager but by this point she had burst into tears over the ordeal.
Ms Richards said the manager maintained that her baggage was 2kg over but agreed she could take the CPAP machine on-board.
“I swallow my pride and say that seems incredibly unfair given I have purchased an extra seat (embarrassed to be mentioning this out loud in the crowded gate),” Ms Richards continued.
“He immediately apologises and says he hadn’t been given that information, so I was fine to board and leaves.”
As she was boarding, Ms Richards claims she was then reprimanded and told she had “confused the system” by checking in online and to “not book an extra seat again”.
Ms Richards said she stepped out of the line while in tears and explained she had done what Jetstar asked of her and was given the all-clear at the service desk.
“He then says he wasn’t aware of this. I am now visibly very upset and explain there is nothing else I could have done,” she said. “He apologises profusely and says he hopes I fly with Jetstar again.”
Jetstar told news.com.au it was “really sorry” to hear about Ms Richards’ experience.
“We’re really sorry to hear about Ms Richards’ recent experience and appreciate it would have been an upsetting situation,” a statement said.
“We pride ourselves on providing great customer service and treating everyone with respect and we’re looking into what happened and how we can do better. Our customer team is also reaching out to Ms Richards to apologise.”
Ms Richards told news.com.au she hopes to decrease the shame plus-size people often feel and encourage them to “live their lives out in the open” and do all the activities they want to.
“Being a plus-size person in this world is a very scary thing,” she said.
“You are constantly open to ridicule and comments from often hostile strangers and feel unwelcome in many public places. This means many plus-size people feel they need to hide themselves and are filled with shame.”
Ms Richards said for her personally, she had felt she didn’t deserve to live the life she wanted because how she looked until she sought treatment for eating disorders about five years ago.
“Everyone deserves to travel and live the life they want,” she said. “If I can help just one person do something they’ve always wanted to do, then I’ll be stoked.”
Ms Richards said Australian airlines should train staff on how to handle interactions with visibly plus-size people and create a formal policy.
She referred to US budget airline Southwest Airlines, which has a detailed “customer of size and extra seat policy”. The airline also refunds extra seat purchases once the passenger is at the airport.