An Auckland woman and her two daughters were left traumatised after staff from Thai Airways said they were "too big" to sit in business class.
Huhana Iripa, 59, and her daughters Renell, 28, and Tere, 37, were accosted with measuring tapes ahead of their Bangkok to Auckland flight, with crew stating seatbelts in the high-end section of the aircraft would not reach to fit around them.
The daughters has been in Thailand for weight loss surgery and had each paid $2650 for the flights, including the business-class seats for the way back to ensure greater comfort.
Iripa said the experience was "horrific" and feels she and her family have been discriminated against because of their body shapes, which at the time ranged from a size 22-26.
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"We were utterly humiliated in front of all the other passengers. We went up to business class check-in and the member of staff on the desk looked at us and said 'sorry you can't'.
"The next thing, there were about five members of staff all around talking in their native language, shaking their heads and looking at us as if we'd committed a crime.
"A staff member then came forward and started saying 'no, you're too big, you're too big'.
"She then pulled out a measuring tape and wrapped it around my daughter Renell, moving her arms outstretched, before trying to do the same to me and Tere.
"At this point, I broke down in tears.
"Everyone was just standing staring at us. The whole thing was disgusting."
The trio were moved to three economy seats.
Social worker Iripa had gone to Thailand to support her two daughters.
She said their original economy seats to Bangkok with Thai Airways had gone smoothly, but their return flight home saw them refused the business-class seats they had paid for.
"We had all been so excited to fly first class and hadn't thought there would be any issues, as we'd never had them on flights before," Iripa said.
"I've never felt discriminated against before because of my size, so this experience left me completely in shock."
After the ordeal, Iripa and her daughters complained and were offered a meeting with two representatives from Thai Airways.
The family asked for a full refund of their business-class seats, but were offered only the difference between the economy and business-class price which amounted to $1250.
The airline apologised and offered $450 in compensation, but Iripa and her daughters believed this wasn't enough and requested the full balance of the tickets as recompense.
"For their rudeness, their disrespect and the trauma of what they put us through, how could they identify that price as compensation?" she said.
After being contacted by the Herald, Flight Centre – the travel agency the family had booked through - offered a full refund of their tickets.
Thai Airways made headlines in 2018 with stories about the airline banning "fat people". It came after they disallowed those with waists bigger than 56 inches to fly in their new Dreamliner 787-900 business-class seats – the aircraft type the Iripa family were travelling on.
The seatbelts have airbags in them, which they say cannot be extended for safety reasons.
Despite this, Iripa was not told at the time of booking with Flight Centre that plus-size passengers would not be accommodated in business class.
Flight Centre general manager product Victoria Courtney said: "I was shocked to hear of Huhana's experience. We have apologised to her directly and refunded her in full.
"We are now reviewing our processes to ensure this doesn't happen again."
Thai Airways International New Zealand spokesman Wayne Cochrane said: "The new 787-900 Dreamliner aircraft used on flights between New Zealand and Thailand is fitted with integrated airbag seatbelts in business class.
"The extension seatbelt normally used to accommodate oversize passengers cannot be fitted to the airbag seatbelts; therefore passengers not able to fit the standard airbag seatbelt cannot be carried in business class.
"As this issue involves passenger safety, I am sure you will understand that we cannot compromise on this."