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It turns out there is something worse than the middle seat: no seat at all.

TUI Airways, a UK-based charter and holiday carrier (formerly Thomson Airways), is under fire after photos surfaced of a family sitting on the floor of one of the airline’s aircraft following an equipment swap.

BBC News reported that the Taylor family was downgraded from a seat to the floor on their return flight after a recent vacation. The family was returning home on TUI Airways, the third largest airline in the UK, when the airline changed aircraft last minute. The aircraft swap resulted in a missing row of seats — and the Taylors had the great fortune of being seated in the empty row. This meant that the Taylors could either wait for another flight on TUI, or take their original flight with floor seating. And the Taylors opted for the latter.

The Taylors, a family of three from the UK, reportedly spent £1,300 (more than $1,670) for their recent trip to Menorca, an island off the coast of Spain. While it appears their flight to the popular Spanish vacation destination was uneventful, the return flight was far from normal.

Paula, 44, spoke about the flight in an interview for BBC One’s Rip Off Britain series. She said she was traveling with her husband, Ian, and their 10-year-old daughter, Brooke. Upon boarding their return flight to Birmingham from Menorca, Paula says that her family “just couldn’t believe it when [they] realized that there genuinely weren’t any seats for [them].”

Rather than wait for a later flight home, the Taylors opted to take the last row of the aircraft which, on the right side, was missing seats. (The left side did in fact have a full row of seats.)

This configuration is not one usually selected by airlines. On some rare occasions, airlines may designate a row of seating toward the back of an aircraft for wheelchairs that are secured to the cabin of the aircraft. Due to space constraints — and other options available for accommodating travelers who require wheelchair assistance — removing a row of seats on an aircraft is a rare occurrence. This is, however, a possible explanation for the missing seats.

While both the European Union and the United Kingdom have laws and regulations that require physical seats with seatbelts onboard commercial aircraft, it appears that TUI Airways allowed the family to take the two-hour flight without requiring the family be seated in proper seats for the entirety of the flight.

However, Paula Taylor noted that the flight crew offered her and her husband crew jump seats during takeoff and landing. She also noted that her daughter received the last available seat, where she sat during takeoff and landing.

Use of crew jump seats, at least in the United States, is restricted to badged crew members. According to the BBC, the Civil Aviation Authority (the UK’s aviation regulator) is looking into the matter, but noted that passengers may sit in crew seats “under certain conditions,” but cannot be left unseated. 

TUI Airways offered the Taylors £30 (about $39) and the option to refund the entire cost of their tickets — but only after the family got in touch with Rip Off Britain. There is no word on whether or not the Taylors took this compensation or if they requested additional compensation for the inconvenience.

Featured photo by Paula Taylor.

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