A Singapore Airlines passenger claimed she felt “humiliated” and “discriminated” against on her flights from Australia to Europe and vice versa in January 2023.
Isabella Beale, 23, a congenital amputee without a left forearm, told Australian media outlet ABC News that Singapore Airlines’ cabin crew had made her feel “humiliated” when she was asked to move from her seat in an emergency exit row in order to meet regulatory requirements.
Beale told ABC News that the emergency exit seats were booked by a 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.
Beale says she does not require special assistance.
Beale said she was humiliated on both outgoing and return flights. The first instance occurred on her flight from Australia to Europe.
“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’,” Beale told ABC News.
“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,” Beale recounted.
She was eventually asked to occupy the seat behind the emergency exit row.
“I need you to treat me like a human being”
“I had a little cry because it was such an affronting thing to happen… it was humiliating and upsetting,” Beale added.
While she said she understood that not having someone with a disability in an exit row may be an airline policy, Beale said that does not excuse staff treating people with disabilities poorly.
“I understand that there might be a policy around this, I’m not saying I need you to sit me in an emergency exit row, I’m saying I need you to treat me like a human being,” Beale said.
Ten times worse on return flight
The same scenario occurred on the return flight, Beale said, although the ordeal was “ten times worse” due to confusion upon check-in about whether she could sit on an emergency exit row.
Beale said: “It was probably tenfold worse the second time around. At first it’s one woman and she comes up to me … it’s almost take-off time and she goes ‘Show me your ticket. You have to move’. Without speaking politely, without acknowledging me as an individual.
“She spoke to my partner and she spoke to my partner’s mother, it felt like there was an assumption that I couldn’t understand.”
She added: “And I don’t know if that assumption came because I’m a person with a disability or if she assumed that because I had a physical disability, I had an intellectual disability, which wouldn’t matter either way … you still speak to me. I’m still a person.”
Beale also submitted a formal complaint via Singapore Airlines’ website after her flight, to which the airline said it responded on Feb 28, 2023.
Singapore Airlines sends apology and gives customer training to staff
Singapore Airlines told Singapore media outlet Today Online that in order to meet regulatory requirements, passengers with a disability, restricted mobility or who are not able to assist with the emergency exit door should not be seated at the emergency exit.
“This decision could have been made at check-in and communicated to Ms Beale, and we sincerely apologize that it was not. We thank Ms Beale for kindly agreeing with the request to move seats during taxi, take-off and landing,” the airline said.
Singapore Airlines also added that its crew was acting on a “potential safety issue” and that the interactions may have been rushed due to the time constraints of preparing the aircraft for departure.
Singapore Airlines also apologized for causing “any distress and embarrassment” to Beale.
The airline added that the staff members were given further customer training in communication after the complaint.