Phil Kent, from Melbourne, was travelling home with his wife after a trip to Thailand on January 10 when the alleged attack occurred.
He told news.com.au he was sleeping in his aisle seat, next to his wife, with a blanket covering his face.
“All the lights were out, and I was laying with my arms crossed and the blanket up over my face and around the back of my head, like a shroud, so I couldn’t be distracted by what my wife was watching and the other screens,” Mr Kent said.
“I was woken by someone bouncing into my left arm quite heavily. So I reached up and pulled the blanket down from over my face and I saw this fist flying toward my face.
“I didn’t know at the time whether it was a male or a female, I just saw a fist coming from the dark.”
Mr Kent said the passenger was a woman he didn’t know, who was in her “late 30s, fairly well-to-do, not what you’d call a scruff”.
He managed to dodge the fist, which “grazed” the side of his face, before the woman continued walking to her seat.
Mr Kent said he took note of the woman’s seat number and got up to speak to the cabin purser, or chief flight attendant, who said he would talk to the woman.
About two hours before the flight landed in Melbourne, Mr Kent approached the purser again.
“I asked if he’d gone down and spoken to the passenger and he mumbled, ‘Oh no, I haven’t, do you really want this matter pursued by the authorities?’” Mr Kent said.
“I said in the absence of an apology, yes. And he said, ‘OK, if that’s what you want, that what will be done.”
But when Mr Kent and his wife arrived at Melbourne airport and spoke to Thai Airways staff there, they claimed to have no record of the incident being recorded. He was also told only the captain could report the matter to the Australian Federal Police.
Things took a strange turn when he spotted the woman who had tried to punch him before he left the airport, and approached her to ask why she had done it.
“Well, out came the four-letter words: ‘You effing so-and-so, you tried to grab me’,” Mr Kent said the woman said.
Mr Kent, who said he was a “big bloke” whose elbow sometimes poked off the armrest and into the aisle, thinks the woman mistakenly believed he tried to grab her as she bumped his arm as she passed his seat.
But he said he didn’t understand why she’d think that if his face was covered by the blanket the whole time, and he had no idea who or what was passing him anyway.
“The passenger in the seat behind me actually questioned me when we were getting off the plane,” he said. “He said, ‘What the hell was she doing striking you? You were fast asleep’.”
Within hours of getting home, Mr Kent sent the first of multiple letters to the airline’s offices in Bangkok, Melbourne and Sydney about the incident, only to receive mostly automated replies.
One reply from the airline, sent a week after the incident, said it was investigating but there was no further explanation.
Mr Kent said he also called multiple times to follow up, and each time he was told the relevant person was busy and they would call him back.
“I never got a phone call. Not one phone call,” he said.
In a statement to Thai Airways, a spokeswoman for the airline said: “We don’t comment on any in-flight incidents that occur on our aircraft. Any such matter will be handled by our Customer Relations team and fully investigated with all parties concerned.”
This week — and days after news.com.au contacted Thai Airways — Mr Kent got an email from the airline saying the investigation was ongoing and he would be contacted when a final report was handed down by the office in Bangkok.
Mr Kent said he was disappointed by the airline’s response so far to what was a serious on-board incident.
“If I had struck the cabin crew, I’d have been given a total hiding and sent to the back of the plane and escorted off by the AFP. If a passenger strikes me, there’s absolutely nothing done about it,” he said.
“But this is now not so much about the woman who struck me, because there’s nothing I can do about it.
“What this is now about is that Thai Airways has shown a total disregard for my safety, has done absolutely nothing to follow through, and at the very least … I would expect Thai Airways or any other reputable company to at least send a letter saying they were sorry to learn of the incident.
“Thai Airways can’t even say sorry. They don’t have any empathy for what’s happened.”