Isabella Beale, 23, from Australia, was travelling to Europe in January with her family aboard a Singapore Airlines flight when she took her seat in an emergency exit row. However, according to Beale, who is a congenital amputee without a left forearm, she was immediately approached by a flight attendant, who allegedly told her to “get out” of the seat.
According to Singapore Airlines’ website, passengers occupying emergency exit seats must meet certain criteria, including being above 15 years of age, not pregnant or travelling with infants, and “fully able-bodied,” which the airline defines as “capable of opening and moving quickly or reaching and passing through the emergency exit doors”.
“Passengers with reduced mobility or any disability, whether profound or partial, and passengers using portable oxygen or any other medical equipment may not purchase or be assigned an EMEX Preferred Seat as they may endanger themselves or others in the event of an emergency,” the airline states.
Beale, who said she does not require special assistance, reflected on the alleged incident while speaking to Australia’s ABC News, with the 23 year old recalling how the airline staff member left her humiliated.
“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 the outlet.
According to Beale, who noted that she was “taken aback” by the instruction and that “everyone [was] looking at us at this point,” she then switched seats with her partner, as she assumed that would be “fine” because she was no longer directly next to the emergency door.
However, Beale said the flight attendant then instructed her to sit in the row behind her original seat.
“[She] goes: ‘No, get up you have to sit in the row behind,’” Beale claimed, adding: “I had a little cry just because it was such an affronting thing to happen … it was very humiliating and upsetting.”
According to Beale, her issue was not with the airline’s policy, but rather the way she was treated by the airline employee.
“I understand that there might be policy around this, I’m not saying I need you to sit me in emergency, I’m saying I need you to treat me like a human being,” she told ABC News.
Beale alleged she was also discriminated against by the airline on her return flight, despite reportedly checking with airline employees about her ticket before boarding the flight.
According to the student, employees at the airline’s check-in desk confirmed that she was able to sit in the exit row before she boarded her return flight. However, she said she was approached by a member of staff shortly before take-off and instructed to show her ticket.
“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,” Beale claimed.
The 23 year old said the flight attendant then spoke to her partner and her partner’s mother, who she was travelling with, about her seating arrangement, with Beale telling the outlet: “It felt like there was an assumption that I couldn’t understand.
“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.”
According to Beale, after she questioned why she would have to move, three additional airline staff members came over to her seat, with the student noting that the “entire flight” was watching the exchange occur.
Beale said at that point, a manager for the airline pointed to her arm and claimed the “problem [was] obvious”.
“The manager gestured at my missing limb and just said: ‘Well, the problem’s obvious, the problem’s obvious’, and continued repeatedly to say that in front of an entire flight of people,” Beale claimed.
The 23 -year-old said the exchange, which allegedly saw the airline staff raise their voices, left her feeling “hurt” and like she was “being vilified” for her disability in front of the entire plane of passengers.
“It was probably tenfold worse the second time around,” Beale said.
In a statement to ABC News, a spokesperson for Singapore Airlines apologised for the “distress and embarrassment caused [to Beale] by the request to move” and said the airline takes allegations of discrimination “seriously”.
“Singapore Airlines takes allegations of discrimination seriously and will not tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment,” the spokesperson said.
The airline also said that it “undertook a detailed investigation” after Beale’s complaint and “found cabin crew operating the flight had determined that Ms Beale did not meet the safety and regulatory requirements to be seated in the emergency exit row”.
“The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) requires passengers with a disability or passengers with restricted mobility to not be seated at the emergency exit,” the statement continued. “The requirements to be seated in the emergency exit row are available on our website and must be reviewed and agreed to at the time of booking.”
However, the airline also noted that the decision “should have been made either at check-in or during the boarding process” and that the crew’s interactions aboard the plane were likely “rushed” due to “time constraints of preparing the aircraft for departure”.
In the statement, the spokesperson also claimed that employees underwent further customer training following the complaint.
On Instagram, where Beale posted a link to her story, she reiterated her humiliation over the experience, before noting that those with disabilities “deserve to be in public spaces” and “deserve to travel”.
“Discrimination and vilification of people with disabilities is humiliating and unjust. We deserve to be in public spaces. We deserve to travel. We deserve to have our humanity respected,” she wrote. “No airline policy gave @singaporeair the right to treat me as though I was a problem rather than a person.”
The Independent has contacted Singapore Airlines and Beale for additional comment.