April 9, 2010
UK: 'You can't sit there - you're too old!'
. LONDON, England / The Daily Mail / Odd News / April 9, 2010 Pensioners banned from plane's exit seats after paying extra for leg room By Daily Mail Reporter A couple were outraged when airport check-in staff said they couldn't sit in the emergency exit seats they had paid extra for because they were too old. Marion Webb, 77, and husband Derek, 79, forked out an extra £100 for seats with extra leg room on top of the £2,360 they paid for a trip to Egypt with Thomson Airways. But when they arrived at Bristol International Airport check-in staff said they were 'too old' to have exit seats and would be unable to operate the door in an emergency. Derek and Marion Webb were outraged when airport check-in staff said they couldn't sit in the emergency exit seats they had paid for The couple, from Bristol, said they were 'hurt, humiliated and angry' by the way they were treated. Retired librarian Mrs Webb said: 'We offered the young lady at the check-in desk our passports and tickets. She asked us to wait while she made a telephone call. 'We knew there seemed to be a problem so after about ten minutes, in an effort to be helpful, we told her we had already been allocated our seats online. 'She said, "Yes, I know, but you are too old to have exit seats." We were not only hurt and humiliated, but angry.' Civil Aviation Authority rules state passengers must be fit and able to operate emergency exit doors but do not set an age limit on the seats. But the Webbs said they are perfectly fit enough to operate the doors and that they were discriminated against due to their age and left embarrassed by airport staff. They said they travelled in emergency exit seats twice in 2009 - on one occasion with Thomson - and that the firm needs to clarify its rules to avoid problems in the future. Staff eventually relented and allowed the couple to sit in their previously booked seats on the March 15 flight to Sharm El Sheik. But on the return flight the airline allocated the couple seats which were not together and not in the emergency exit as they expected, despite a Thomson representative assuring them they would not have the same problem again. Mrs Webb said: 'Thomson must adopt a clear and cohesive policy about selling extra leg room seats. 'Being elderly does not automatically make one frail. People can be frail at any age. I do not want this to happen to us or to any one else in future.' A spokesman for Thomson said that while their travel agency staff saw no problem with the couple having the seats they used a third party, Servisair, to handle their services at UK airports. He said: 'Due to the location of these seats, Thomson Airways is required to follow regulations put in place by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which state that customers must have the "strength and full mobility" to open the emergency exit doors if required. 'Given these regulations, Thomson Airways recommends that customers choosing to sit in these seats must not be elderly and frail. 'Our retail staff saw no reason why the couple would not be able meet these requirements and booked the seats for the couple. 'Thomson Airways uses a third party to provide handling services at UK airports and in Mr and Mrs Webb's case they were checked in by a Servisair representative. 'These representatives are required to ensure the CAA regulations are enforced at check-in. 'Thomson believes it was right to sell these seats to Mr and Mrs Webb. However, it would like to apologise to the couple for any distress caused during the check-in process and for not providing consistent information.' Spokeswoman for Age Concern Bristol Jessica Lewin said: 'It is unjust to discriminate against people because of their age. 'Although we cannot comment on this case specifically as we do not know all of the facts, we stress the importance of fair judgement and urge people to treat others equally, regardless of their age.' [rc] © Associated Newspapers Ltd