Our office was sympathetic to hear the story of a poor pregnant Sydney woman, Ms Meghan Rachel-Cochrane, who was allegedly ‘forced’ to sleep on a Brisbane Virgin Terminal floor.
This is a complicated situation where Virgin Airlines must balance its service policies with the woman’s well being and its general duty of care to its customers. However, passengers who undertake flights must also be aware of their duty to mitigate their situation as well.
A Duty of Care to its Customers
Virgin Airlines cited its policy as the authority for refusing Rachel accommodation and access to the member’s lounge.
It is important that airlines adhere to a strict duty of care to protect customers from foreseeable harm. Pregnant women according to Virgin Airline’s pregnant while flying policy are not allowed to travel on a 4 hour or less flight after their 38th week of pregnancy.
However, the policy also stated that, “If you are 28 weeks pregnant or more, you will be required to carry a letter from your doctor or midwife, dated no more than 10 days prior to travel, outlining the estimated due date, single or multiple pregnancies, the absence of complications, and your fitness to fly for the duration of the flight(s) booked.”
It is uncertain in the article if Virgin Airlines has followed all of its standards including requesting a doctor/midwife letter. However, had this situation resulted in an injury or a complication to the childbirth while the Rachel was within the airline’s care, then she may be entitled to compensation for Virgin’s negligence in allowing her to fly contrary to their own policy.
The Importance of Emotional Integrity When Assessing Legal Rights
On the facts, Rachel did not seem to have suffered any real loss. This is an important consideration to make for travelers. You are not entitled to compensation simply on the grounds of minor and temporary discomfort.
It is very easy for people to become emotionally attached to their situation, their frustration and anger. Sometimes, this leads people to irrationally pursue legal action in order to seek the “justice” that they think they deserve.
A Brisbane personal injury lawyer will advise you on the potential of success in your claim with consideration to liability issues and an estimate of compensation under the various heads of damages.
Do not be fooled into making a potential nuisance claim where pursuing legal action costs will exceed your potential for compensation. Sometimes, a lawsuit is simply not worth pursuing.
It is very easy for readers to assume that Rachel may have been ‘forced’ to sleep on the floor. Australian society is very respectful towards pregnant women such as enforcing priority seating in public transport. However, this general policy is not effective at compelling a private company to accommodate a pregnant woman who falls within their contract terms.
While Rachel certainly was entitled to some sympathy, there were a number of other actions she could have undertaken to mitigate her situation:
- Sought accommodation herself at her own expense
- Paid for access to the lounge;
- Considered taking out travel insurance to reimburse her for situations such as this; or
- Considering the absolute necessity of her flying while she is 36 weeks pregnant, especially when she is subject to Braxton Hicks contractions.
Takeaway from this Situation
It is to the discretion of a company to decide how they will treat their customers. However, from an objective position, a customer should always be prepared to consider worse case scenarios prior to flying.
Travel insurance is an important component to compensate for exceptional circumstances outside the traveller’s control. While it costs an additional amount of money, it also provides an avenue of relief that may come sooner than pursuing a lengthy litigation claim.
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Do you have a question about your legal rights? Let us know.