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Singapore Airlines brand sentiments dip after 'humiliating' incident with amputee passenger

Singapore Airlines brand sentiments dip after 'humiliating' incident with amputee passenger

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Singapore Airlines (SIA) has apologised to a 23-year-old amputee after the passenger claimed she was discriminated against due to her disability while travelling from Australia to Europe.

The woman, Isabella Beale, is a congenital amputee without a left forearm. She told Australian media outlet ABC News that the SIA cabin crew had “humiliated” her when they asked her to switch seats. Beale was originally seated in an emergency exit row that had been booked by her family member. 

Emergency exit row seats are reserved for those who are not pregnant, not under 15, those without infants and those who are not in need of any special assistance. This is something that is stated during the booking process with SIA. 

However, Beale claims that the way she was informed of this by cabin crew was humiliating. In a statement to ABC News, Beale stated that she was approached by the air hostess in a "loud and quite frantic tone". Beale was asked to "get out" of the seat. Surprised, Beale then switches seats with her partner such that she is no longer directly next to the emergency doors. She noted that at this point, many passengers were looking at them as they overheard the conversation. 

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The air hostess then asked that Beale sit in a row behind instead. Beale claims that the incident brought her to tears and that it was "very humiliating and upsetting". She added that she understood the policy but that she simply wanted to be treated with respect and like a human being.

When Beale returned to Australia, again on an SIA flight, she checked with staff members as to where she could sit. The staff at the check-in desk confirmed her seat and reissued her ticket which was again located in the exit row of the plane. 

Unfortunately, when she boarded the plane, an air hostess approaches her to ask her for her ticket and to say that she had to move. Beale claims that she was not spoken to politely and that she was now acknowledged as an individual in this interaction.

The air hostess reportedly spoke to Beale's partner and her partner's mother rather than Beale herself. Beale lamented that she has a physical disability and not an intellectual one and that she should have still been spoken to as a person. 

She then said that more staff boarded the plane including two ground staff members and two air hostesses. Beale noted that the manager repeatedly gestured at her missing limb and said "well, the problem's obvious." The interaction reportedly happened in front of an entire flight of people who were watching and listening to the incident. 

Beale said that she was upset and hurt and felt that she was being "vilified" for her disability in front of many people particularly as they were "raising their voices and yelling."

In response to Beale's comments, a Singapore Airlines spokesperson apologised for the "distress or embarrassment" caused by the airline's request to move her seat, according to a spokesperson at SIA when MARKETING-INTERACTIVE reached out. 

SIA continued by saying that the airline conducted a detained investigation which found that the cabin crew had determined that Beale did not meet the safety and regulatory requirements to be seated in the emergency exit row. It then went on to cite regulatory requirements which require passengers with a disability or passengers with restricted mobility to not be seated at the emergency exit. It noted that these requirements are laid out and must be reviewed and agreed to at the time of booking. 

"As she would be required to assist with the operation of the exit door in the case of an emergency, she would not be able to remain seated in the exit row during taxi, take-off and landing," the statement read.  It added that the decision could have been made at check in and communicated to Beale. SIA apologised that this was not done. 

It went on to thank Beale for "kindly agreeing with the request to move seats during taxi, take-off and landing."

SIA concluded by saying that staff were given further customer training following the complaints and internal investigation. Beale also noted separately that her family has since been refunded the extra cost of the seats in the exit row.

Unfortunately, the incident seems to have significantly sullied the public's impression of SIA with media intelligence company Meltwater reporting largely negative sentiments socially and editorially at 50.1%. There are only 5.1% positive comments and 44.8% that are neutral, according to Meltwater. It added that mentions of the brand increased by 68700% to 688 following the incident.

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Adding on, media intelligence company CARMA noted that while positive sentiments appear to be net positive overall, it showed a clear dip since the news came out regarding the incident faced by the young woman. 

Comments by Singaporean netizens tended to focus on the bigger picture instead of the way the woman was addressed by the cabin crew, according to a spokesperson at CARMA. Some comments suggested suing Boeing and Airbus for not being inclusive while others criticised the woman for "endangering the lives of other passengers and still daring to play the discrimination card."

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SIA was also recently in the news after one of its planes were grounded at O.R. Tambo International Airport in South Africa after a bomb threat was made this week. The news on 14 March dominated the conversation and swung the brand's sentiments negative again, according to CARMA. 

According to a tweet by Johannesburg's international airport, SQ478 had landed and was then grounded because the airport was made aware of an alleged bomb onboard the flight. 

Emergency services were activated along with a fire and rescue crew and the South African Police Service (SAPS). After investigations, the plane was declared safe and no bomb was found. The aircraft was later allowed to depart for its destination an hour after it was declared safe. 

The news comes shortly after a wheelchair user on board a Jetstar flight found herself crawling down the cabin aisle after she was reportedly told that she had to pay for wheelchair services in order to disembark. The passenger claimed she crawled about four meters to her wheelchair to avoid paying these charges. 

Jetstar has since apologised and clarified that they do not charge extra for the use of an aisle chair. 

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