A Brazilian plus-sized model claims Qatar Airways refused to let her board a flight to return to her homeland because she was too fat to fit in a standard Economy Class seat and demanded she pay thousands of dollars to upgrade to a larger Business Class seat.
Juliana Nehme from São Paulo had been on vacation with her family in Lebanon and was on her way home on Tuesday when airport agents working for Qatar Airways at Beirut Airport reportedly fat-shamed her and refused to let her onboard the plane.
In a series of Instagram posts, the 39-year-old influencer says one of the check-in agents called her mother over and told her that Juliana “wasn’t welcome to board” the flight because she was too fat.
Juliana claims the airline quoted her a price of more than $3,000 to upgrade to a Business Class seat despite her “begging” to be allowed to board the flight and sit in the seat she had already paid to sit in.
“Shame on a company like Qatar [Airways] to allow this kind of DISCRIMINATION against people,” Juliana said on Instagram. “I’m FAT, but I’m the SAME AS EVERYBODY.”
“It is not fair to buy my ticket and be HUMILIATED, THREATENED AND BLOCKED FROM FLYING,” the Instagram post continued.
Juliana called on Qatar Airways to come to the rescue, but a spokesperson for the Doha-based airline said its check-in agents had not only been following the correct procedures but that Juliana had been “rude and aggressive” to its staff in Beirut.
In fact, the airline claims Juliana and her traveling party were initially refused permission to board the flight because someone in the group didn’t have the necessary Covid test required for entry to Brazil.
“The passenger in question at Beirut Airport was initially extremely rude and aggressive to check-in staff when one of her travelling party did not produce required PCR documentation for entry to Brazil,” the airline said in a statement.
“As a result, airport security was requested to intervene as staff and passengers were extremely concerned with her behaviour,” the statement continued.
But even if everyone in Juliana’s group have the correct pandemic paperwork, the airline made it clear that Juliana would probably have been blocked from flying for being too large.
The airline explained that a passenger “who impedes upon the space of a fellow traveller and cannot secure their seatbelt or lower their armrests may be required to purchase an additional seat both as a safety precaution and for the comfort and safety of all passengers”.
Juliana didn’t, however, have any problems when she flew to Lebanon with Air France, calling into question Qatar’s policy.
The incident will, no doubt, raise questions about shrinking airplane seat sizes, as well as the rights of plus-sized passengers.
In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration says it has been flooded with more than 26,000 submissions from members of the public and industry stakeholders after the agency asked for feedback about airplane seat size and legroom.
The FAA is currently carrying out a review over concerns that airplane seats have shrunk in recent years but the inquiry is focused on whether smaller airplane seats pose a safety risk during an emergency evacuation rather than passenger comfort.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.