Australian student Isabella Beale has accused Singapore Airlines of discrimination against her on two separate occasions because of her amputated arm.
ABC reports that Ms Beale, 23, had travelled to and from Europe in January with her family when she claimed she was singled out for being seated in emergency exit row seats that had been booked by another family member.
Singapore Airlines currently lists those who are pregnant, those under 15, those with infants, or those in need of “special assistance” as being unable to sit in emergency exit rows.
Ms Beale is a congenital amputee without a left forearm and does not require any assistance, but was asked to move seats in front of other passengers on both occasions.
During the booking process, the airline does not specifically mention the policy of not having a passenger with a disability in an exit row.
Speaking to ABC, Ms Beale stated that on her flight from Australia, a staff member left her feeling humiliated in front of other passengers.
“All of a sudden an air hostess approaches me and, in quite a loud tone and quite, like frantic and rushed, she just says, ‘Get out, get out of that seat now, you need to get up’,”
Ms Beale said. “I’m a bit taken aback and I switch seats with my partner, which I think is going to be fine as long as I’m not directly next to the emergency door … everyone is looking at us at this point, and can overhear the conversation.
‘[She] goes, ‘No, get up you have to sit in the row behind’.
“I had a little cry just because it was such an affronting thing to happen … it was very humiliating and upsetting.”
On her return flight to Australia, Ms Beale alleges she once again experienced discrimination from staff, even after she consulted with staff members at the check-in desk about where she could sit. The check-in desk staff confirmed and reissued her ticket, which was still in the exit row of the plane.
However, Ms Beale was asked to move again just before take-off, and the airline staff allegedly spoke rudely to her.
Ms Beale said that she decided to share her story with ABC news, as she wanted to raise awareness for people with disabilities who experience discrimination while travelling.
Peak bodies for Australians with disabilities say such incidents are common, and the government and authorities can take action to improve the situation. The Australian federal government stated that disability discrimination and access to air travel would be a key focus of an upcoming aviation review.
In a statement, a Singapore Airlines (SIA) spokesperson apologized for the “distress or embarrassment caused by the request to move” and stated that the company was investigating the matter.
The spokesperson added that the airline’s policy is to restrict emergency exit row seating to those who are physically and mentally able to perform the necessary functions in emergency situations.
The spokesperson noted, “While this decision should have been made either at check-in or during the boarding process, it was not.”
SIA said it has refunded the extra cost of the seats in the exit row, and the staff were given further customer training after the complaint.
Posting on her Instagram page, Ms Beale wrote:
Discrimination and vilification of people with disabilities is humiliating and unjust.
We deserve to be in public spaces. We deserve to travel. We deserve to have our humanity respected.
No airline policy gave @singaporeair the right to treat me as though I was a problem rather than a person.