Our Compensation Clinic this week is an interesting case as one of our readers had a bad experience on board a Lufthansa flight in First Class where the seat mechanism broke down and didn’t allow for recline.
Modern day airplane seats in First and Business Class are highly advanced technological items and that usually results in the crew not being able to fix much once a break down of the internal mechanism occurs.
In a case of our reader Martin from Germany exactly such a case happened and he was just a few hours into his overnight flight to Shanghai.
He wrote to me in German so I’ll translate his email to you:
I see you have some experience when it comes to dealing with Lufthansa so maybe you can help. I’ve had a bad experience on a recent flight from Hannover via Frankfurt to Shanghai, on the long sector to be precise. I used two Lufthansa Senator eVouchers (Senator since 2006) to upgrade from a quite expensive D Class ticket to First Class.
The cabin was booked full that day and about two hours into the flight the seat mechanism suddenly broke down and didn’t go back or forth. The Purser came and tried to help but without any result, it was now a seat in more or less a ‘relaxation’ position. The crew apologized and it really isn’t their fault but since the cabin was full to the last seat I was offered to sleep on a seat in Business Class and would of course still be served whatever I wanted from First Class. I accepted that because what’s the point of being stubborn and sitting in First Class without being able to sleep!? Due to the weird position of the seat I was also asked to sit on said Business Class seat just for landing and went there 25-30 min prior.
The purser assured me this would be reported to Lufthansa. He said he could offer me a mileage compensation on board (12,000 Miles and More Miles) or some duty free vouchers. I declined both as I find the value of what he was able to offer not in line with my ruined experience.
After writing to Lufthansa Customer Relations I received a package at my home address containing 4 bottles of ‘Veuve Cliqout Grande Dame’ champagne. I rarely ever drink champagne and even though it might be expensive that’s nothing beneficial to me.
What should I do?
Best wishes, Martin
Unfortunately if there is a mechanical issue the crew indeed is often powerless. Some seats have the option of being able to be moved into position with a manual handle underneath the seat cover but I think if this would have been possible then the crew would have offered that.
Frankfurt-Shanghai is a 10 hour flight and if the seat broke down 2 hours after take off that means it’s a substantial discomfort to the passenger, let alone having to change cabins for sleep and landing.
I think Lufthansa acknowledged that some form of decent compensation was due as evident by the shipment of the champagne to the customers home. It’s always a problem to ship alcohol to a customer if it’s not clear if he actually drinks or if he likes what they send him. Just because someone flies in First Class doesn’t mean the person likes Champagne, Cigars or whatever else someone commonly associates with opulence. There are multiple reasons why a customer doesn’t drink be it for religious or health reasons. Maybe simply a matter of preference/taste.
I suggested Martin to get back to Lufthansa and explain the situation, decline the Champagne and offer to send it back and request his 2 Upgrade eVouchers back instead (and extend their validity if expiring soon – it’s this time of the year again). Alternatively request 50,000 Miles in lieu of an upgrade.
The options the purser has on board, issuing handwritten vouchers for duty free / miles is enough for minor issues such as spilling incidents, Inflight Entertainment problems or something wrong with the meal. If a seat is totally wrecked and the passenger is forced out of the highest cabin class then that’s a different dimension and can’t be compensated with 12,000 Miles.
This is a clear case of complaint management going wrong. I do appreciate the fact that Lufthansa went out of the way here and sent someone such expensive and nice champagne but again, that’s just me. If I was that passenger and they’d have sent me expensive whiskey instead then I’d be in the same situation – I don’t like whiskey, no matter the price or quality.
Customer Relations should have gotten back to the passenger and offer the champagne first, then wait for an answer instead of simply shipping it over. Considering the severity of the issue (having to leave the cabin for almost 6 hours (60% of the flight) does warrant a refund of his upgrade instrument which is why I suggested him to request just this.