I remember it like it was yesterday. I was making a connecting flight back from Denver to Sioux Falls, South Dakota after reading a paper in Montana to an enthralled crowd of at least a half-dozen people. I was sitting midway in the plane with an empty seat next to mine. I realized to my dismay that it was the only empty seat left on the plane when I spotted a very large man ambling toward me from the front of the plane — and toward the seat next to me. He took up the entire width of the aisle as he moved slowly toward me. I shuddered to think what was about to happen. In the event, I spent the next few hours curled up in half of my seat while the seat next to me overflowed with human person. I should have been refunded half my fare, at least.
I gather this sort of thing happens fairly regularly, though I realize that some airlines require that large persons are required to pay for two seats (I hesitate to say “fat” persons: I suspect it is politically incorrect). This is eminently sensible. Unfortunately this was not the case in my flight from Denver. And the persons so charged would disagree that it is sensible as a recent story suggests — and I hasten to mention that this is an extreme example:
The death of a 407-pound woman after being denied boarding on three flights was “preventable,” according to an attorney for the woman’s husband, who plans to pursue legal action against three airlines.
As I say, this is an extreme example. But it makes my point: the husband of the person at the center of this episode is going to court to sue the airline which made every effort to accommodate a very large person but was unable to do so. As a result, she was forced to delay her flight and eventually was unable to receive the medical attention she required to save her life. Presumably. We are dealing in a counterfactual here since we have no idea what would have happened to this woman had she been able to fly home and receive the attention her attorney says she required. And if she was that sick why did she leave home in the first place? One wonders. In any event, it is a sad business (no, Yahoo News it is not a “tragic” event, just very sad. Tragedy happens rarely and we always bring it on ourselves. The Greeks knew that.)
But the question of just who the victim is in this situation requires analysis. The airline made every effort possible to accommodate a passenger who required extraordinary measures just to get her aboard. They even attempted to get her on two other planes that they hoped could be modified to allow her to board. The passenger who sat next to me, on the other hand, paid for one seat, yet he took up two — or, perhaps three (I couldn’t see beyond him to the third seat next to the window). I was inconvenienced as were a number of passengers in the case of the deceased woman whose flight was delayed while the airline attempted to figure out how to modify the plane to accommodate the woman. I did not die — fortunately. But I was royally pissed off and didn’t want to fly THAT airline again. I did not contact my attorney.
But those of us who have been imposed upon or somehow inconvenienced these days claim the status of “victim.” It is likely to garner sympathy from the people around us and it sometimes translates into large rewards from sympathetic juries. But win or lose we can feel sorry for ourselves. I know I still do. But we would prefer to win. We do indeed live in a litigious age and the lawyers stand at the ready to file a brief on our behalf and get us into court so they can collect their fee and make the payments on their vacation home. Whatever. It is the way of the world.
Clearly the woman in this case was a victim. But whether the airline was responsible for her death remains for the courts to decide. From what I have read, it will be a hard case to make. But lawyers are clever people and I will never sell them short. Someone will pay big-time I suspect. And I will simply sit and stew, remembering the terribly uncomfortable trip I had those many years ago in a flight from Denver to Sioux Falls. So it goes.