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Monday, 21 October, 2002, 18:26 GMT 19:26 UK
Crushed flier wins obesity payout
Virgin Atlantic aeroplane
Virgin apologised to crushed passenger Mrs Hewson
Virgin Atlantic has paid a woman passenger 13,000 (US$20,289) compensation, after she was squashed by an obese person who sat next to her on a transatlantic flight.

Barbara Hewson, from Swansea, south Wales, suffered injuries including a blood clot in her chest, torn leg muscles and acute sciatica and remains in pain two years on.

Barbara Hewson
Barbara Hewson: Still in pain

The obese passenger had only been able to fit into her seat by raising the arm rest, which meant her body parts weighed down on Mrs Hewson.

The injured woman had to be admitted to hospital in Los Angeles when the flight touched down and was bedridden for a month.

Two years later, and after pressure on the airline to take her complaint seriously, Virgin agreed to pay her compensation.

Before taking off, the freelance writer had complained in the first instance to the cabin crew about sitting next to the overweight woman, who had booked two seats on her outward bound flight to London, but not on the return leg.

Attendants told Mrs Hewson the flight was full, with no other seats available.

She said her experience of the 11-hour flight in economy class had been "horrific".

This was an unprecedented set of extremely unfortunate circumstances

Virgin Atlantic spokesperson

Mrs Hewson added that she was now forced to walk with a stick and is still in pain.

It is reported Virgin officials initially offered "a small basket of goods" worth 15 as compensation, but Mrs Hewson took forward her complaint.

And after 18 months of pursuing her claim and undergoing medical examinations by Virgin's own doctors to prove the extent of her injuries, the airline agreed to a proper settlement.

A statement by Virgin said Mrs Hewson's injuries arose from "an unprecedented set of extremely unfortunate circumstances".

airline passenger
Overweight passengers are an issue for airlines

"We have apologised to Mrs Hewson and have offered her compensation, which she has accepted, and we are pleased that this has now reached a conclusion."

In the United States, budget US carrier Southwest Airlines now charge larger passengers for two seats.

Major concern

But the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance has taken on airlines over discrimination against overweight people.

The level of obesity in the US is now of major concern, but also in the UK, National Audit Office figures show one in five people are clinically obese.

Vale of Glamorgan MP John Smith has fought a campaign against cramped economy class conditions, following a series of deaths from deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which have been linked to long haul flights.

BBC Wales' Rhodri Lewis
"The airlines are ignoring the need to provide more space for everyone."

Obese person watches plane take offAirline obesity
Should overweight flyers pay extra?

More from south west Wales
See also:

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21 Oct 02 | Talking Point
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