22 October 2002

£13,000 for being sat on by obese passenger

By Matthew Beard

Barbara Hewson's ordeal started when she boarded an economy class flight to Los Angeles and realised she had been placed next to a woman so large she had to raise her arm-rests to fit in the seat.

Actually, her neighbour was sitting on her lap.

After the flight, in January 2001, Mrs Hewson, from Swansea, developed a blood clot and sciatica. More than two years later, she is still reliant on a walking stick because of damage to her right leg.

Yesterday Mrs Hewson, 63, became a cause célèbre for the many passengers who have suffered similarly unfortunate seating arrangements, when Virgin Atlantic paid her £13,000 to compensate for her injuries.

She complained to the crew who told her that because the flight was full she could either get off and wait for another or ask someone to swap seats. Mrs Hewson took painkillers and she was allowed to sit on the hostesses' seats occasionally and spend some of the flight standing.

Mrs Hewson, from Swansea, was heading for the West Coast for a dream holiday with her 67-year-old husband Ray, but ended up bed-bound in a hotel. "It ruined the holiday. We went out very little," she said.

Yesterday she attacked the airline for knowingly allowing the large woman to sit next to her. "It was never about the money," she said.

"No money would pay for you having sleepless nights with the pain."Mrs Hewson, a freelance writer, says she has now trouble sitting at her computer. She can fly only short-haul and has to lift her right leg by hand when getting into a car.

A spokeswoman for Virgin Atlantic said: "This was an unprecedented set of extremely unfortunate circumstances. "We have apologised to Mrs Hewson."