A fascinating lawsuit has been filed in Frankfurt against Lufthansa today impacting seat assignments, bait-and-switch sales tactics, terms and conditions, and the first class cabin on the 747-8.
Lufthansa First Class Lawsuit: Are Seat Assignments Guaranteed?
With quarantine-free travel to much of Europe now available to Germans, Lufthansa added widebody Airbus A350-900 and Boeing 747-8 service to Palma de Mallorca, one of the most popular destinations for German tourists in Spain.
When Lufthansa put the seats on sale, it offered business class passengers the chance to reserve seats in first class and many paid more to get on these particular aircraft precisely for that reason.
“The Boeing 747-8 is the largest aircraft that Lufthansa can currently use. This means that 364 instead of the previous 215 seats can be offered. 88 seats in Business Class (including First Class) and 276 seats in Economy Class (including Premium Economy) are for sale.”
While business class tickets on narrowbody Lufthansa aircraft and other airlines cost about €300 round-trip, Lufthansa charged around €1,000 EUR to fly on the 747-8.
Several days after booking, customers who had reserved first class seats found themselves re-assigned to business class.
Lufthansa cites its contract of carriage as giving it the authority not to honor seat assignments.
§5.4.3 We are entitled to reassign seats at any time, even after boarding the aircraft. This may be necessary for security or operational reasons. If you have paid for a previous seat reservation and the flight is canceled or the seat is reassigned for security or operational reasons, we will reimburse you for the seat reservation fee. A reimbursement will not be made if you do not take the flight voluntarily, rebook or upgrade to a different class of transport or if you provided us with incorrect information about the ability to sit at the emergency exit when booking.
Nevertheless, Dr. Mattias Böse has sued Lufthansa in a Frankfurt court today over the seat assignment change on behalf of his impacted client.
#Lufthansa hat Passagiere auf Sonderflügen n. Malle v bestätigten First-Class Sitzplätzen in die Business Class verbannt, verweist auf Beförderungsbedingungen.
— Dr. Matthias Böse (@dr_boese) July 8, 2021
The central issue to me is one of detrimental reliance (promissory estoppel) in the common law, better known as Culpa in contrahendo (§311 of the German civil code [BGB]).
Yes, there is a contractual language that seems to give Lufthansa the power to change seat assignments at will, but the analysis must not end there. Such language comes into conflict with the idea that Lufthansa advertised a certain seat for a certain price, accepted money for that seat (indeed, a premium over other seats), then decided to move passengers to far inferior seats without notice or compensation.
It’s called bait-and-switch and the fine print of a contract of carriage should not shield Lufthansa or any airline from such a disproportionate action that frustrates the reasonable expectations of a customer.
Is it not inherently reasonable for a guest to see Lufthansa advertise a first class seat for sale, pay the asking price, and expect to keep it? It’s not like Lufthansa can add contractual language in fine print that you cannot sue the airline if its pilots are drunk and crash the plane. There are limits to adhesion contracts.
I am grateful Dr. Böse is suing to hold Lufthansa accountable and cannot believe that Lufthansa elected to be so stingy.
How stingy? It is now selling first class seats on those 747-8…for an additional €129.
H/T: YHBU // image: Lufthansa