A Brazilian court has ordered Qatar Airways to pay for weekly counselling sessions of a passenger it denied boarding to last November because the airline claimed she was too fat to fit in the Economy Class seat that she had booked.
Juliana Nehme, a plus-size model and advocate from São Paulo, had been on vacation with her family in Lebanon last month but was stopped from returning home after airport agents working for Qatar Airways at Beirut Airport allegedly fat-shamed her.
The 39-year-old influencer told her fans on Instagram that Qatar Airways had refused her board the first of two flights back home to Brazil unless she stumped up an additional $3,000 to upgrade to a larger Business Class seat.
Juliana’s story quickly went viral, with Qatar Airways initially arguing that she had been denied boarding because she had been “rude and aggressive” to airport staff.
Now, a judge in her native São Paulo has ruled the Doha-based carrier must pay for Juliana to attend regular psychotherapy sessions so she can recover from the distress that the incident has caused her.
On Tuesday, the court ordered Qatar Airways to pay for a weekly therapy session worth at least US $76 each. The airline must cover the costs of these therapy sessions for at least the next 12 months at a total cost of $3,684, which must be deposited into Juliana’s bank account as a lump sum.
Shortly after the incident, Qatar Airways denied Juliana’s version of events and said problems started when a member of her travelling party had issues with a mandatory pre-departure Covid test.
“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 had 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.
Whatever the actual reason for Juliana’s flight ban, a spokesperson for Qatar Airways confirmed it was the airline’s policy to demand obese passengers to upgrade to a larger seat if they “impede upon the space of a fellow traveller and cannot secure their seatbelt or lower their armrests”.
Some commentators have labelled Qatar Airways’ policy as ‘fatphobia’.
Brazil’s Ministry of Justice and consumer protection secretariat said last month they had opened a joint investigation into Qatar Airways over allegations of discrimination.
Investigators ordered Qatar Airways to provide a response within just ten days that it was discriminating against obese people. Qatar Airways was asked to provide details on what “operational measures” it had adopted to prevent discriminatory practices against obese passengers.
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.