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Airline Lawsuits Fly In The Face Of Reason

It’s been a bad week for airlines, but a great week for lawyers  Dec 21, 2008

It’s been a bad week for airlines, but a great week for lawyers. On Wednesday, it was announced that a couple are suing United Airlines for serving them too much booze. Yoichi Shimamoto claims the cabin crew kept supplying him with burgundy during a flight: he says that the drunken fight he had with his wife on landing, during which he whacked her six times, is therefore all United’s fault.

That came hot on the heels of news that Peter Hughes — a cabin-crew member who was fired by British Airways for taking 12 whisky miniatures, but later reinstated — is suing his employers for £50,000. He claims he simply forgot to pay, and says they hurt his feelings by accusing him of theft.

Both cases are still proceeding, so we’re not going to comment on their merits (we’ll let you do that), but it does make you wonder if Shimamoto and Hughes might have hit on something. All those lawsuits against airlines for what seem like more mundane reasons — losing your bags, leaving you stranded — never seem to get anywhere. So why not be creative and sue them for something unexpected?

In fact, it seems this might be a bit of a trend. If you can think of it, they’ve been sued for it. Below are six recent cases brought against airlines: five are genuine, one we’ve made up. See if you can spot the dud (the answer’s in the box, bottom right); and if you get it wrong, and suffer emotional trauma as a result, please don’t sue.

The Total trauma: passengers on an Air France flight to Mauritius sued the airline for allowing singer Bonnie Tyler to perform Total Eclipse of the Heart during the flight. They claimed to be traumatised by the experience. “Apparently, some of the Belgians were terrified that the plane was going to crash,” the singer said.

The bumpy ride: a flight from LA to New York hit severe turbulence, and passengers were thrown around for 28 seconds. Just one of those risks you take when you get on a plane? Not according to 13 flyers who sued, claiming that American Airlines should have avoided a storm that caused the bumping and that the safety-belt signs were not lit. They won $2m between them for “emotional injuries”.

The distressing vibrator: Renee Koutsouradis sued Delta after her bag was found to be emitting a buzzing sound. She claimed she was summoned from her plane before takeoff and ordered onto the tarmac at Dallas, where she was made to hold up the item so staff could check what it was. Nearby Delta employees “began laughing hysterically”, she said, and the incident left her with post-traumatic stress disorder. She sued for emotional distress, claiming punitive damages. And lost.

The rigid rodents: Inga Bladsson, of Sweden, sued a local airline for mental cruelty after her children’s beloved hamsters, Pinku and Perku, were frozen solid in the hold. The airline claimed its animal containers were sufficiently insulated — but, when they were unloaded at Stockholm, the rodents were found to be at -35C. The case was settled when the airline paid the family an undisclosed sum and agreed to buy the children a puppy.

The hefty neighbour: Philip Shafer, of Ohio, sued Delta after being seated next to a man who weighed, at Shafer’s guess, more than 30 stone. “From my knee to my shoulder, this guy was pressed up against me,” he said. He claimed breach of contract, saying that since he’d been left with only half a seat, the airline hadn’t supplied what he had paid for. The matter was settled out of court.

The no-go BO: British Airways kicked a German man off a flight from Honolulu after complaints from a fellow passenger that he was too smelly. He sued the airline in a Düsseldorf court, claiming £1,500 for the inconvenience, but lost when it turned out that BA’s conditions of carriage allow it to turf extra-stinky passengers off the plane.

(It was the hamsters. So the Bonnie Tyler tale is true.)

It’s been a bad week for airlines, but a great week for lawyers
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