Customer Sues Airline for Not Getting What He Paid For — And Wins

A passenger successfully sued Lufthansa Group for failing to provide his pre-ordered kosher meal. Those of us in the U.S. consider would consider it a ‘man bites dog’ event.

Lufthansa argued that he paid for and received transportation. The court rejected this,

The passenger has the right to receive what he paid for. It is a consumer relationship and, unlike what the airline claims, the nonexistence of kosher food, despite having been requested in advance, is not an accessory matter

The passenger took a Swiss flight from Zurich to Sao Paolo in 2012. He sued in Brazilian court and four years later win $1400. The amount was for “moral damage” although he had initially sought $5000.


While this airline meal was delicious, it also wasn’t kosher.

Swiss does promise special meals if ordered at least 24 hours before departure.

Lufthansa will not appeal.

Lufthansa said the flight was operated by SwissAir, which belongs to the Lufthansa Group, and the “technical problem” is uncommon. The food reportedly did not board the airplane with the catering service and therefore was not served.

In the US it is much more difficult to successfully sue an airline, or else I might consider a suit over lack of predeparture beverages. At the very least, we need Supreme Court nominees who will commit to overturning Ginsburg.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I disagree , Gary
    The flight Zurich – Sao Paolo is a very long one. The choice of meal is unimportant to me and most others( though I am a great fan of Singapore’s “Book the Cook”). To someone kosher, to be served crayfish is in fact an insult (mind,I always order the Lobster on SQ)

    The passenger may well have had to wait a very long time to eat , not having kosher food, which is why he pre-ordered.

  2. Generally I agree that the airline owes the passenger what was promised, but $1,400 for a meal is outrageous. Especially if, as Lufthansa claims, they offered compensation (miles) after being informed of the problem, and the passenger never responded. OTOH, I can understand why they wouldn’t want to throw any more money away on attorneys.

    I hope “moral damage” is a Brazilian term of legal art – I can’t imagine what’s “immoral” about a failure to cater, unless it was actually deliberate. I’d be curious to see why the appeals court overturned the initial suit was dismissed.

  3. As someone who keeps kosher and travels a lot I was pretty upset when I saw this. I can’t believe he had such gall to sue. Just take the compensation or voucher. But to sue? Cmon. should I sue for how inedible the kosher airline food is,? it is what it is. I usually bring my own food and the airlines will usually warm up it for me. That’s life. Most people I know who keep kosher and travel always bring back ups for situations like that. Let’s not reward this guy for his stupidity.

  4. Mordechai, as someone who doesn’t keep kosher outside the home, I think that it is perfectly reasonable to take the airline to court to get the compensation one seems they deserve. How is this stupidity?

  5. @David, stuff happens. What if the food had spoiled? What if the FA accidentally dropped his tray on the floor? Should someone really $5,000 dollars (or even $1,400) because they didn’t get a particular meal? Seems outrageous to me. But then again we live in an age where everyone wants to go after someone any time they don’t get exactly what they want. If he was so outraged how about he flies another airline next time…or better yet, I hope Lufthansa blacklists him.

  6. The Brazilian consumer protection laws are very powerful. Airlines get sued over all sorts of things over there that normally would not stand a chance in the US or even Europe. For example airlines can get sued for advertising fares but not release enough inventory for the sale fare. And the ex-Brasil YQ charged on award tickets have been sued many times and if the consumer had the gut and time to stick it out has won repeatedly.

  7. Now what if the airline opened his tray, to warm it up? They had the best intentions, but the meal is not considered kosher if it’s opened and warmed in the airline oven. What then? They went out of their way, but didn’t understand. Sue them? Sure, go ahead. I just find it embarrassing. When you choose to travel and keep kosher you hope for the best. You also don’t travel for the food. Ever. I’m in Tokyo rihjt now. There are two–yes only two–kosher restaurants. One of them was closed when it was supposed to be open. Should I sue?? and the other too far to reach in time. Did I complain? Yeah it sucks but I brought back ups. This guy was just looking for a buck.

  8. Any informed opinions as to what he paid in legal fees?
    This does seem frivolous to me. I would’ve settled for 10,000 miles.

  9. If there is competition on a route with some airlines offering kosher meals, thus inducing some customers to book with them, rather than a competitor, it seems reasonable that they should be held to that offer. Quantum of damages is a different question, but the principle is correct.

  10. Those who are showing so much outrage over the person who sued, I can explain it in a different context. I am a vegetarian from India. Twice it happened that, when I flew from India to US, airline failed to provide Vegetarian meal even though it was requested specifically while booking. So I ended up eating just fruits for a long haul journey(15 Hours). Unfortunately laws against airlines are not so strict here, otherwise it does make sense to sue the airlines. I am young so managed with fruits, what if the passenger is elderly and needed proper food to keep up with health conditions?
    I am glad he won the case.

  11. What person who is healthy enough to travel could have a dire “health condition” from missing 1 kosher meal? Expecting $5,000 reimbursement from a missed meal is GROSS ENTITLEMENT. I feel like somebody who pays to file a lawsuit over something so frivolous — after ignoring the airline offer to compensate — deserves nothing but a big lawyer bill.

  12. Ridiculous suit.
    Airlines frequently forget meals… Air Canada usually doesn’t load them. 😉
    Should I sue for flying F and not getting my first choice? “I can only eat beef!!”
    If you have RELIGIOUS requirements, I don’t see why you shouldn’t bring your own food. Your religion is your choice, and sometimes it may impact your life.
    If you have HEALTH requirements, I would say the airline would be more at fault. However if they’re life threatening I would also expect you to provide for yourself, at the very least as a backup.

  13. Many years ago, once, when I flew Northwest first class, they ran out of meals. I was the last one to be served and ended up getting a coach meal, a sandwich wrapped in foil. I didn’t know I could have sued :). Too late now …

  14. Its disappointing to me that some people here have insufficient respect for contractual obligations so as to cluck at somebody having the temerity to seek damages for breach of them. Contracts form the basis for a voluntary and free society, and nobody should be ashamed for trying to vindicate his rights under the law. Unfortunately in the United States, the communitarian zeitgeist has taught us that its better to just suck it up and fall in line, and not be the squeaky wheel which disturbs the established order of airlines feeling free to rook their customers. Very few Americans seem at all bothered that the U.S. Federal Government has decreed that airlines operate above the law, and that passengers have no legal redress in the Courts for anything having to do with breaches of any promises regarding fares or services. The airlines behave accordingly. So those like @Lindy might find this to be a symptom of “gross entitlement,” but in reality it is simply a contractual entitlement — that’s how the free market is supposed to work.

    Fortunately, the rest of the world doesn’t feel the same. Europe at least provides material economic damages for airlines that don’t comply with their promises, and Brazil might lead the world in coaxing airlines to behave well by making sure that passengers have easy access to courts. Any passenger whose flight is late or cancelled for a reason within the airlines’ control or which violates a promise made regarding fares or services, can very quickly and easily access the Brazilian courts, and can either represent themselves (for damages under around US$5,000) or with a lawyer that the airline will have to pay for if they lose (and in some cases the passenger might be liable for some of the airlines costs if the airline prevails). As a result, the airlines behave much better than they do in the US.

    This includes US airlines flying to Brazil. For a few months American didn’t have sufficient equipment for all of its JFK flights, and was regularly delaying US-Brazil flights for 12-16 hours (so as to avoid a parked plane all day and to be able to make a quick roundtrip). US law offered these absolutely nothing, but enough passengers filed in Brazil (including me) to make AA realize that they couldn’t so easily lay off their costs on their passengers, and incentivized them to the point that I haven’t noticed significant delays on these flights recently.

    The US likes to think that it believes in free markets, but this is a good example of where government diktat and not voluntary contractualism has created American law. The Brazilian system is fairer and better.

  15. I think it will take a new Congress that is willing to provide some remedies in the Airline Deregulation Act or expressly waive federal preemption of state law claims to overturn Ginsburg. Without that, no judge will rule against federal preemption no matter the circumstances of a particular plaintiff. Even if there was a different plaintiff with different circumstances that somehow allowed the Court to rule in his favor, that would distinguish Ginsburg not overrule it.

  16. @john The Ginsburg decision leaves absolutely no room for any lower court to distinguish any case involving airline fees or services (including specifically frequent flyer programs) from its very broad holding. The Ginsburg case represented the most egregious facts imaginable, and yet was held to be preempted. Personally, I don’t blame the Supreme Court, but rather the Congress that passed the Act in the first instance, and which refuses to fix it today. Unfortunately, there are a great many fields which US law has entirely preempted and left consumers with no remedies, and the clear trend is towards reduced access to the Court for Americans, and I wouldn’t hold out any hope of seeing airlines accountable in US courts anytime soon.

  17. I had heat attack on a Swiss Air flight, June of 2011. As the agents closed the doors I informed the Purser that I had chest pain and need to get off the aircraft.

    She told me that I was just nervous and everything would be ok. She brought me a cold towel.
    I was in Business class and got up and told her that I needed to get off the aircraft. She then said, I am acting against the rules and she can call authorities on arrival in Zurich and I need to go back to my seat. I was traveling with a partner. As we were taxing I told my partner, Patricia that my heart was pounding faster and I was having a heart attack. She then told the gentleman in 2C in business class. As we reached the somewhat comfortable cruising altitude my breathing got worse, chest pain and I could not breath anymore and Patricia and the gentleman who was an EMT got up, begged the Purser to call the Captain to make an emergency landing. The Flight Attendant still did not believe me or Patricia. Then Patricia yelled that I was a Purser myself for many years and I have seen many heart attacks on the aircraft and I am not a nervous flyer. The pilot came out and agreed to make an emergency landing. Yes, I had heart attack at a young age on Swiss Air. I was on a United/Continental award ticket. We did not complete our travel. I was in a German hospital for a few days. They wanted to operate on me, I ended up leaving the hospital, buying a ticket and flying home and saw a doctor in LA. I wrote to Swiss Air and not a respond back. I wrote to United to get the miles back not a respond? What are my legal rights? Can I sue? How do I sue? Any lawyers that can help? Please email me if you can help. Thanks,
    AlanLouganis@yahoo.com

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