Reader Question: Downgraded During Lufthansa Strike, What Is Fair Compensation?

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A reader sent us an interesting question and correspondence deriving from a downgrade situation that occurred during one of the recent Lufthansa Pilots Strikes.

lufthansa-a340-strikeDuring the strike the passenger was inconvenienced and rebooked onto Air France Economy Class even though his ticket was originally in Lufthansa Premium Economy.

In the cause of the situation the passengers incurred expenses for various items that are covered under EC261/2004 which stipulate that airlines have to fulfill their duty of care even in a strike situation. Airlines are obliged to pay necessary accommodation, ground transport, meals and phone calls to support the passenger until the next available flight can be reached.

Here is the email from our reader:

HI John,

Our Economy Plus flight home from Paris was cancelled, so they booked me and my wife onto economy Air France the next day. I sent them a letter with receipts and here is their response.

This is pretty lame, not only on the 261/2004 regulation, but also a puny $168 difference in fares, as Premium Economy was originally more than $168 per person (CDG to SFO). Any ideas for possible next steps?

He refers to correspondence Lufthansa sent him after submitting his expenses for the items that should have actually been covered locally through a voucher or even ore so by rebooking the passenger into a correct Class of Service (Premium Economy) of alternative carriers such as British Airways or Air France as long as available. Lufthansa neglected to do any of this.

Here is their reply:

Dear Mr,

The EC regulation 261/2004 does not grant compensatory payment in cases of flight delays and cancellations caused by strike action. We therefore hope for your understanding that we cannot meet your request for compensation. We will of course cover the extra costs of care that you incurred for hotel accommodation, additional meals, phone charges, and the excess baggage fee which was charged by Air France. The total reimbursement will be $663.00 USD. We have sent two checks for $332.00 USD, one for each passenger, to the following address.

 

Kindly expect the payment to arrive in approximately three weeks.

We have also processed a refund of the difference in fare between the original Premium Economy fare and the reissued Economy Class tickets. The amount of $168.00 USD has been credited to the original form of payment and will be reflected in your account within the next five to ten business days. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us by replying to this e-mail.

We hope you will regard this recent experience as an isolated incident and that you will allow us to regain your confidence in future travels with Lufthansa.

As far as the EC261/2004 regulation goes there is no provision for the mandatory 600 EUR compensation as a strike is considered force majeure in this context.

As mentioned above and acknowledged by Lufthansa the carrier is however responsible to provide duty of care such as hotel accommodation and meals until the inconvenienced passenger finally received an alternate flight. Lufthansa honored the legitimate request of the passengers for reimbursement and also mentions they would pay for additional baggage which passengers presumingly had to pay to Air France after exhausting their standard Economy Class allowance (Premium Economy at Lufthansa naturally enjoys a higher allowance). The correspondence notes receipts so I trust these expenses to be legitimate even though it sounds a bit on the high side. Hotels in Paris can be expensive though.

Where I start to have problems is that Lufthansa designates a downgrade compensation of $168.00 per passenger for the segment. I would be interested to know what LH Economy Class fare they used to calculate that fare difference. In any case it was an involuntary downgrade and that should wannrant more than such a low amount to be refunded.

When Lufthansa downgrades a passenger from Business to Economy Class on a long haul flight the payment is 1,600 EUR in cash (or 1,700 EUR in vouchers). For a downgrade from First Class to Business it’s 4,100 EUR in cash.

I have researched Lufthansa fares on various routes in the past six months or so and found that Premium Economy is often not much more expensive than Basic Economy. Solely based on fare difference the $168.00 per segment quoted here might be a correct amount but it’s impossible to say that without investigating the historic data.

What are the options?

If this outcome is not satisfactory to the passenger who resides in the U.S. I suggest to lodge a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation Consumer Protection (access their webform here) and request Lufthansa to provide a fair compensation for this downgrade.

I can’t see more than 250$ issued for a one sector downgrade from Lufthansa Premium Economy to Economy Class. Unless of course you can prove a higher fare difference was paid. Penalty charges do not apply under EC261/2004 so it would be the fare difference only. It’s up to the passengers to decide if this effort is worth it to them.

Conclusion

As far as this case goes I’m quite surprised how fast Lufthansa got back to the customer and offered a reasonable resolution (reimbursement of all expenses and refund of a fare difference). This must be because they complained to the U.S. division of the customer relations department. The counterpart in German language is backlogged for months and I wouldn’t expect and reply in the near future should you have lodged a complaint in German.

As mentioned before the amount of $168.00 for one sector sounds realistic to me based on the fares I have seen in the past. It’s easier to fix a certain $ amount to a sector if you bid for an upgrade and then have to be downgraded for such reasons (not the case here).

These pilot strikes are a menace not only for the customers but also for the airline which has to deal with the fallout on the operational and customer service end of it. Let’s hope this problem will get resolved soon but I wouldn’t hold my breath as of now.

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