Air New Zealand business class passenger Linda Perez was forced to climb over seats to use the toilet after a flight attendant told her nothing could be done to wake the reclining passenger in front who had left her stuck in her seat.
Mrs Perez was travelling from Honolulu to Auckland with her husband when two hours into the nine hour flight she called for a flight attended to help her find a way of moving out of her window seat.
The Perezs and the flight attendant could not get the entertainment unit that was obstructing Mrs Perez's exit to fold back into the arm rest because the seat in front was too far reclined.
"I was told (by the flight attendant) the only option was to wake the lady in front but she looked fast asleep so she didn't want to do that.
"So I climbed onto my seat and onto the arm rest and jumped into the aisle."
Mrs Perez said she was concerned she would lose her footing in the dark cabin after the flight had experienced turbulence earlier on.
"What if I had caught my foot and fallen face-first into the aisle?"
The experience left Mr and Mrs Perez, who are Air New Zealand frequent fliers, questioning the airline's reputation as "Airline of the year".
They believe in-flight staff should have offered greater assistance rather than leaving it to Mr Perez to hold his wife's hand to make sure she exited safely.
Mr Perez said the apology he and his wife received from Air New Zealand and an offer to credit their accounts with 80 air points each is not good enough considering the round trip from Auckland to Honolulu for two cost $11,000.
"I have been a Koru club member for 13 years and eight months.
This certainly has had an impact on my decision to fly with Air New Zealand in the future," said Mr Perez.
In email correspondence with the Perez's, customer support specialist Claire McLister said she appreciated the difficulties Mrs Perez encountered, however, crew were in a delicate position of whether or not to wake up the passenger, as this could cause offence.
"In this instance, I do apologise that the crew member was not more pro-active in assisting your wife under the circumstances and perhaps waking the passenger.
I will be following this up with the crew to implement measures to better manage such incidents in future, and to be use more initiative."
Air New Zealand spokesperson Lara Harrison said chief executive officer Rob Fyfe had requested a thorough investigation and will respond to the Perezs later today.
"Our approach on customer correspondence is to respond to them first, and directly.
"Business Class seating on our 767's has a seat pitch of 1.2m.
"Our cabin crew do everything possible to ensure all our passengers have a safe and pleasant journey with us."