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We were removed from a plane due to our size — flight attendants called it ‘an inconvenience’

Passenger Angel Harding says she was left
Passenger Angel Harding says she was left "in shock" after she and a friend were allegedly 86'd from an an Air New Zealand flight due to their size.

Sky’s the limit — but not on this airline.

A female passenger claimed that she and a friend were allegedly ordered off an Air New Zealand flight due to their size.

“I just couldn’t believe what was happening to me,” Angel Harding told 1News of the traumatizing incident, which allegedly occurred on a flight from Napier to Auckland.

Passenger Angel Harding says she was left “in shock” after she and a friend were allegedly 86’d from an an Air New Zealand flight due to their size. 1News
Passenger Angel Harding says she was left “in shock” after she and a friend were allegedly 86’d from an an Air New Zealand flight due to their size. 1News

The pair had reportedly been returning from a Hui (a Māori term for an “informal gathering”) in Hastings, having flown from Kerikeri to Auckland, and then Auckland to Napier without any issue.

The woman said she was looking out of the window while the plane was taxiing on the tarmac, when all of a sudden, she felt a sharp pain.

That’s when she allegedly turned to see a flight attendant slamming the armrest down on her arm.

“My thoughts are they took me off because of my build, because of my size,” said Angel Harding. 1News
“My thoughts are they took me off because of my build, because of my size,” said Angel Harding. 1News

“I was kind of was in shock,” she said. “I moved forward, and she started yelling to me that the pilot can’t take off unless all the arm rests were down. She was speaking to me in an aggressive manner.”

Harding claimed that the flight attendant only relented when she asked her to stop. At that point, her appalled friend, who was sitting next to her, confronted the crewmember over her alleged behavior, but this only exacerbated the situation.

“She said, ‘Don’t you think you should be seated if the plane is in motion?’” Harding claimed. “And then [the flight attendant] looked at both of us and said, ‘I can get you both kicked off this flight.'”

The pair soon realized she was not making an idle threat. Harding claimed the woman walked to the front of plane and spoke into the phone, after which she noticed the aircraft starting to turn back to the gate.

Shortly thereafter, the air hostess announced over the intercom that everyone would need to deplane due to “an inconvenience,” before reportedly walking back down the aisle to berate Harding and her friend once more.

“She came over and said, ‘You two should have booked four seats, you two should have bought two seats each’,” declared the distressed passenger.

Harding said she was subsequently informed that she’d have to book four seats should she ever fly Air NZ in the future.

Harding plans to seek compensation from Air New Zealand over the humiliation and pain she suffered because of the incident. 1News
Harding plans to seek compensation from Air New Zealand over the humiliation and pain she suffered because of the incident. 1News

Harding and her pal, who were assisted with wheelchairs, were allegedly shuffled off to the side and left with an airport worker while the other passengers disembarked.

Kathleen Tuhiwai Wharemate, who was flying with the duo but had a separate seat, said she was devastated upon realizing what had transpired.

“As I was pushed [back] out to the plane, I looked back and saw them both crying, and I was crying, and it was just so sad leaving them behind,” she lamented.

While the airline didn’t give an explanation for their removal, Harding believes they’d been discriminated against because of their weight.

“My thoughts are they took me off because of my build, because of my size,” she said. “As to myself and our build, our size had a lot to do with it. They didn’t say it [was], they said it was an inconvenience.”

She said she found their treatment particularly jarring as she hadn’t had any problems on the flights out with the airline.

Air New Zealand reportedly required Harding and her friend to rebook a flight that could accommodate them, but footed the bill for their tickets, accommodations and food. AFP via Getty Images
Air New Zealand reportedly required Harding and her friend to rebook a flight that could accommodate them, but footed the bill for their tickets, accommodations and food. AFP via Getty Images

To make matters worse, Harding claims she was told they’d need to rebook on another flight to accommodate them, which wouldn’t be available until Sunday due to the soaring demand.

When the pair informed Air NZ they couldn’t afford the ticket, the airline footed the bill. They also covered accommodations, meals and even granted them free access to the exclusive Koru Lounge while ironing out the details.

Air NZ even issued a formal apology to the pair.

“We are committed to treating all customers with respect and dignity and we apologize that these customers received an inconsistent experience,” an airline spokesperson said in a statement. “We will continue to work with the customer directly to address their concerns.”

However, they added that they “strongly recommend” that passengers contact them before boarding if they require extra space onboard, claiming that flight staff would try and accommodate them if possible.

“I just couldn’t believe what was happening to me,” said Harding. 1News
“I just couldn’t believe what was happening to me,” said Harding. 1News

Nonetheless, Harding and her friend plan to seek compensation from the airline for the humiliation and trauma they allegedly endured.

“We’re all humans, we’re all human, and I don’t ever want anyone to go through the trauma that we are going through right now,” she said.

Currently, New Zealand doesn’t have any laws stating that plus-sized passengers have to buy another seat, instead leaving it up to the airline.

The United States doesn’t have such a law either, with policies for plus-sized passengers varying vastly from airline to airline.

United Airlines, for one, requires passengers to buy extra seats if they cannot buckle their seatbelts, take up space in adjacent seats, or cannot keep their armrests lowered while they are seated, per their website.

“If an extra seat isn’t available, you’ll need to change your flight to one that has extra seats,” they write.

On the other side of the aisle, US budget carrier Southwest Airlines boasts a “customer of size” policy, which allows overweight passengers to request a complimentary seat and forces the flight staff to accommodate larger flyers — even if that means kicking others with tickets off the flight.