And would you then sue the airline involved if they insisted you travel in First Class?
Last week reader Ryan left a comment on an old blog post of mine about when a Japan Airlines gate agent profusely apologized to me for a free upgrade:
@Lucky: Cathay Pacific was once sued in the Philippines for upgrading a passenger to first class… and Cathay Pacific lost! The case even reached the Supreme Court. http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/jurisprudence/2003/mar2003/150843.htm
Naturally I was intrigued, and while this case goes back nearly two decades, it’s a really interesting read.
The premise is that a couple was flying from Hong Kong to Manila on Cathay Pacific in economy class with two friends, and they were Marco Polo elite members. Both the couple and their friends received an operational upgrade to business class at check-in. Then when they got to the gate this happened:
Ms. Chiu approached Dr. Vazquez and told him that the Vazquezes’ accommodations were upgraded to First Class. Dr. Vazquez refused the upgrade, reasoning that it would not look nice for them as hosts to travel in First Class and their guests, in the Business Class; and moreover, they were going to discuss business matters during the flight. He also told Ms. Chiu that she could have other passengers instead transferred to the First Class Section.
Taken aback by the refusal for upgrading, Ms. Chiu consulted her supervisor, who told her to handle the situation and convince the Vazquezes to accept the upgrading. Ms. Chiu informed the latter that the Business Class was fully booked, and that since they were Marco Polo Club members they had the priority to be upgraded to the First Class. Dr. Vazquez continued to refuse, so Ms. Chiu told them that if they would not avail themselves of the privilege, they would not be allowed to take the flight. Eventually, after talking to his two friends, Dr. Vazquez gave in. He and Mrs. Vazquez then proceeded to the First Class Cabin.
Upon their return to Manila, the Vazquezes, in a letter of 2 October 1996 addressed to Cathay’s Country Manager, demanded that they be indemnified in the amount of
P1million for the “humiliation and embarrassment” caused by its employees. They also demanded “a written apology from the management of Cathay, preferably a responsible person with a rank of no less than the Country Manager, as well as the apology from Ms. Chiu” within fifteen days from receipt of the letter.
It gets better:
In their complaint, the Vazquezes alleged that when they informed Ms. Chiu that they preferred to stay in Business Class, Ms. Chiu “obstinately, uncompromisingly and in a loud, discourteous and harsh voice threatened” that they could not board and leave with the flight unless they go to First Class, since the Business Class was overbooked. Ms. Chiu’s loud and stringent shouting annoyed, embarrassed, and humiliated them because the incident was witnessed by all the other passengers waiting for boarding.
They also claimed that they were unjustifiably delayed to board the plane, and when they were finally permitted to get into the aircraft, the forward storage compartment was already full. A flight stewardess instructed Dr. Vazquez to put his roll-on luggage in the overhead storage compartment. Because he was not assisted by any of the crew in putting up his luggage, his bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome was aggravated, causing him extreme pain on his arm and wrist. The Vazquezes also averred that they “belong to the uppermost and absolutely top elite of both Philippine Society and the Philippine financial community, [and that] they were among the wealthiest persons in the Philippine[s].”
In 1998 the court even ruled in the favor of the plaintiff:
WHEREFORE, finding preponderance of evidence to sustain the instant complaint, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of plaintiffs Vazquez spouses and against defendant Cathay Pacific Airways, Ltd., ordering the latter to pay each plaintiff the following:
a) Nominal damages in the amount of P100,000.00 for each plaintiff;
b) Moral damages in the amount of P2,000,000.00 for each plaintiff;
c) Exemplary damages in the amount of P5,000,000.00 for each plaintiff;
d) Attorney’s fees and expenses of litigation in the amount of P1,000,000.00 for each plaintiff; and
e) Costs of suit.
That was overruled by the Court of Appeals, which found the ruling excessive:
On appeal by the petitioners, the Court of Appeals, in its decision of 24 July 2001, deleted the award for exemplary damages; and it reduced the awards for moral and nominal damages for each of the Vazquezes to P250,000 and P50,000, respectively, and the attorney’s fees and litigation expenses to P50,000 for both of them.
And even that was overruled by the Supreme Court:
WHEREFORE, the instant petition is hereby partly GRANTED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals of 24 July 2001 in CA-G.R. CV No. 63339 is hereby MODIFIED, and as modified, the awards for moral damages and attorney’s fees are set aside and deleted, and the award for nominal damages is reduced to P5,000.
No pronouncement on costs.
So in the end I guess receiving a double upgrade isn’t a way to get rich quick, but at least it makes for a good story! What do you think? Would you decline a complimentary upgrade?