Lufthansa Sued Because Business Class Wasn’t Fully Flat In 2008

Per FlyerTalk, a lawsuit was just settled in Indian court between Lufthansa and a passenger who flew the airline’s business class from Mumbai to Dallas via Frankfurt in 2008.

Via the lawsuit:

It is alleged that one of the travellers namely Mr. Vivek Talwar flew from Mumbai to Dalas via Frankfurt on Flight LH751/LH7438 of the opposite party, in Business Class on 01-09-2008. Mr. Talwar was keen to travel by a flight in which the seat was entirely flat, so that he could sleep during the 20 hours journey. When he checked with the airlines before the ticked was re-issued, he was informed that they had flat beds in the Business Class which they had introduced in March 2007. However, Mr. Talwar later discovered that the seat on which he travelled was semi-reclined and not fully flat. As a result, he could not -1- have a comfortable sleep during the journey. When Mr. Talwar complained to the opposite party he was informed that their seats were 170 degree flat.

So the passenger sued for a refund, as well as punitive damages, for “mental harassment and agony.”

The passenger was assuming Lufthansa’s business class would be fully flat based on the following information, which was on the website at the time:

“You can discover, for example, how the ergonomically designed seats provide a high degree of comfort for sitting and sleeping. The seat pitch of up to 152 cm allows you plenty of leg room when seated. The “Private Bed” sleeper seat, which extends to two metres at the touch of a button, will ensure you have a relaxing sleep, whether you lie on your back or your side.”

“There are 48 Business Class seats on board the Airbus A319 and exclusively in the Boeing 737, 44 respectively 56 comfortable Lie-Flat-Seats which extend to almost two metres. Spacious storage areas, a power connection for your laptop and a reading lamp built into your seat help to create ideal working conditions on board.”

This seems to be an argument over semantics, because Lufthansa claims the seats are indeed lie-flat, but not fully flat. Their argument is that lie-flat seats don’t have to be parallel to the floor, and hilariously they use Urban Dictionary to support their argument:

The question which arises for consideration in this complaint is as to whether the Business Class seats provided in the aircrafts of the opposite party at the relevant time were ‘lie-flat seats’ or not. Admittedly, though the seats provided to the Business Class passengers in the aircrafts of the opposite party, at the relevant time were reclining seats, though did not recline upto 180 degree, the recline of the aforesaid seats being to the extent of 170 degree. The case of the opposite party in this regard is that a ‘lie-flat seat’ is different from a fully flat bed which some other airlines such as British Airways were providing at the relevant time and that is why they had chosen to describe them as ‘lie-flat seats’ instead of describing them -2- as fully flat seats/fully flat beds. In support of their contention that a ‘lie-flat seat’ need not recline to 180 degree and convert into a fully flat bed, the opposite party relies upon the following definition of ‘lie-flat seat’ given in Urban Online Dictionary:

“An airline seat that offers a recline of at near 180 degrees, but the angle of the seat is not parallel to the floor, rather a slant towards the floor. These seats are offered by many airlines’ long-haul Business Class flight.”

This flight goes back over seven years, but I totally agree (in theory) with the guy in the lawsuit. How is the average consumer supposed to know the difference between fully flat and lie-flat?

Lufthansa-Business-Class-1

The passenger ended up winning the lawsuit, and Lufthansa was ordered to pay the passenger, the Consumer Welfare Fund, and pay for the cost of litigation:

Considering all the facts and circumstances of the case, I direct the opposite party to pay a sum of Rs.50,000/- as compensation to Vivek Talwar. I also direct the opposite party to deposit Rs.20,00,000/- as compensation with the Consumer Welfare Fund set up by the Govt. of India, by way of a pay order/demand draft in the name of PAO, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, payable at New Delhi. I further direct the opposite party to pay a sum of Rs.10,000/- as the cost of litigation to the complainant. The aforesaid payment and deposit shall be made within six weeks from today.

While suing over this does on one hand seem a bit extreme, I fully agree that angled seats shouldn’t be marketed as being lie-flat.

What do you think — is it okay for airlines with angled seats to market them as lie-flat?

Comments

  1. Interesting — back in the (thankfully mostly over) angled lie-flat days, there were plenty of airlines that advertised their similar seats with similar language. I wonder if we will see any more lawsuits like this pop up?

  2. The thing to commend in this is that the case was adjudicated within a “short” span of 7 years in favor of the small guy (big guy is the airline here) in a country like INDIA! Makes it for a Friday afternoon chuckle!

  3. First-world problem settled in a Third-world country.

    Boo-freaking-hoo. Poor baby did not get to sleep well for one whole day. Suck it up, buttercup!

  4. This clearly shows that some people simply have to much time and thus can come up with such a ridicules lawsuit, guess he also didn’t take into account the 200+ people that where seating behind him in Y when he described the old LH C as “mental harassment and agony.”
    What wonders me the most is that LH actually lost the lawsuit because since we are dealing with such a small technicality, than technically the seats provided by Recaro installed on the LH aircrafts are capable of 180 degree lie-flat and are capable to perform the 180 degree recline on “limited” seats which can be found and reserved without FFS on every LH widebody

  5. So he got a grand total of $935 USD including lawyer fees and this consumer fund got $32k USD. Not exactly a glorious victory.

  6. I am really glad the passenger prevailed because there is no doubt that airlines fail to reveal adequate information to enable consumers to make educated decisions, which was certainly the case here.

    However, because of various terms of carriage provisions in this country, a consumer may not have such a easy victory in the US.

  7. Reading this, have i got a story for you.
    I can’t remember if it was 2001 or 2001, but it was a the year that BA switched from their Club World Cradle seat to their first generation Club World flat bed. I flew home from ARL via LHR the first week this seat was introduces was very pleasantly surprised to learn at the gate that my seat was being switched as the aircraft would operating my flight wad the new seats installed. There was a lot of hoopla at the gate and BA staff explaining the various functions of the seat. Flight was great, yada yada yada. A few months later BA was advertising that the BA 174 and 176 (their original 7 and 9 pm departures) were operating the flat bed seats. Needless to say, big was my surprise when i checked in at JFK and the staff apologizes that my particular flight had an equipment change and therefore then old cradle seat was the way i would fly that night. I asked to me moved to the 9 pm flight, but was told it was already fully booked. I was very upset, but kept my calm telling the check in staff that i specially booked the 7 pm, knowing it had already gone fully flat. When i returned home from my trip, i wrote a letter to the Executive Club, wanting them to make up to me for the inconvenience i suffered. Few days later i got a call and was offered a 5000 miles to be credited to my Executive account. In a very polite way, i told him that i appreciated BA’s gesture but that i knew he could do better then that, expecting him to say ok, we’l give you 10,000 or 20,000 miles. But instead he told me, to give him one day and he would call me back the next day. Sure enough he did, and offered me a free Club Class ticket, systemwide. Anywhere BA flies. And a week later a letter arrived fm BA with the offer and a special customer service tel to call for booking the flight and and a special booking code. Had to be done at least 48 hours before travel, so the hard copy ticket with w red carbon slips could be Fedexed to me overnight. Just so happened i had a trip to Tokyo and Singapore coming up about 2 months later. So i called BA, booked JFK-LHR-NRT/SIN-LHR-JFK all in Club World and bought a separate one way between NRT & SIN. The next day the ticket arrived, i examined it from corner to corner, showed it to a friend of mine who was my travel agent. Sure enough a revenue ticket was issues, booked in J class, and the fare at the time was something like $ 16,000 or more, i can’t remember the exact fare but we were well into the high teens thousand. Trip was great, really enjoyed BA’s new fully flat seat on all 4 flights. Best of all, I got full mileage posted to my executive account, for the flight, +50% for J class and then a 100% bonus cause i was a gold card member. I was lucky my complaint fell on someone willing to hear it.

  8. Yo Ben, I am vacationing in Barbados and was flipping channels and saw you being interviewed on the RT network.

  9. I am surprised that this matter was not solved by the carrier “LH” before entering into court.
    Despite that, aggressive marketing can probably drive sales.
    I have been on-board one of LHs jets, on certain occasions traveling between FRA and the Middle East (BAH and DXB), providing a “full-business class” experience. When the flight is operated by Privat-Air, you will almost get the best soft-product available, however – the Hard core business class product they attempt to deliver was out-dated in 2009. Having said that, it is more than OK, on an out-bound Europe flight during day-light hours. Returning on a night-flight it is terrible (almost like the IAH-SVG) now based on SK metal.

  10. to be honest i don’t understand the obsession with fully lie flat seats – for me personally, i never put my seat fully flat when i wanna sleep … the most comfortable sleep I’ve had was on LH F (the new F) with both my back slightly up as well as my feet slightly bent. I manually adjusted the seat back up from fully lie-flat which just wasn’t comfortable for sleeping at all …

  11. Lucky,
    “There are 48 Business Class seats on board the Airbus A319 and exclusively in the Boeing 737, 44 respectively 56 comfortable Lie-Flat-Seats which extend to almost two metres. Spacious storage areas, a power connection for your laptop and a reading lamp built into your seat help to create ideal working conditions on board.”

    What? Flat Beds on an A319 and B737? This must be a mistake.

  12. It’s a sin for airlines to claim angled flat as lay flats. What really kills me though is Korean’s claim of “fully flat” in J on the 380, 777 when it is not.

  13. A lot of times, I am surprised that airlines are able to advertise their products the way they do without reprecussions. Many airlines will proudly show their latest premium seat in advertisements – even though it’s like on 2 planes on their total fleet. To me that’s false advertising. They shouldn’t do it until there is a reasonable expectation that a customer could get that seat.

  14. So if 170 degrees is flat, how about 90? 100? How would that be for comfort? At what point does “lie-flat” fall apart?

  15. Angled flat shld not be misrepresented as lie flat. Glad to see this victory for the consumers

  16. 170 degrees is not lie-flat – it is intentionally misleading, regardless of what the term might mean on urban dictionary. I’m glad Lufthansa was ordered to pay for their false advertising.

  17. Back in 2007, I flew business on Lufthansa from China to Germany. I distinctly remember how disappointed I was with the “lie-flat” seat. At its “flat” setting, I kept sliding down the seats, making it really hard to sleep. On top of that, the seat was lowered to near floor level, and I could hear all the footsteps and carts rolling by.

    I can understand the disappointment.

  18. Glad that it is a win for the customer. LH should really learn to settle these matters through customer service. Sometimes LH is horrible (as any airline) but LH people don’t seem to care when the complaint goes to CS. It is always wise to settle things quietly between the airline and customer instead of keeping their silly ego. I stopped flying LH long time ago because of that…

  19. @ Noah S —

    For a while, Lufthansa and others were contracting out with PrivatAir to operate some narrow-body, all-business class flights in select markets. Not unlike the BA A318 Club World-London City operation. I have no idea what the on board product was like on those flights though.

  20. after reading the headline, I was preparing myself to meet some over-entitled jerk making a frivolous lawsuit. But after reading the article, I’m on his side! 170 is definitely not flat.

    The most curious thing to me though is the seat. You tell me the manufacturer could only make the seat go 170 instead of 180? what tech breakthrough was needed to go the extra 10 degrees?

  21. The seat was clearly advertised as a lie flat seat and I double checked with the airline and they confirmed it was fully flat . I was going to Dallas for one day for business and needed to be fresh for my meetings there and wanted to be back to work as soon as I got back to Mumbai . It’s was a 20 hour flight one way and barely 24 hours in Dallas . So to expect the seat to be flat was really the only thing I wanted .

    Even if the seat was 170 degrees that Lufthansa is now claiming it would have been fine . It was much less and I would keep slipping down making it impossible to sleep . The inflight supervisor in fact told me to complain to the LH management as she would constantly get harassed by passengers expecting a flat bed .

    On my return I contacted LH and the issue would have been resolved if they had just apologised and rectified their advertising ! Instead they became arrogant and gave me attitude as if I was talking rubbish .

    They are lucky the suit was filed in india where the damages awarded are very low as in this case . Any where else in the developed world they would have been taken to the cleaners !

    Maybe I should consider filing in the U.S. As they still don’t seem to have learnt their lesson . They want to appeal this tiny award ! Stil no apology or acceptance of their fault so there is more to come !

  22. Moron. Should have just flown BA. He was probably trying to be cheap. You pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

  23. It should be understood, a 180 degree seat will allow a passenger to sleep on stomach. A 170 degree seat will not!
    A human spine will not flex in reverse. You can not bend backwards. This is not the same as arching backward while stretching.
    Many sleeping disorders and snoring are a direct result of sleeping on your back.
    Over weight passengers tend to snore sleeping on their back vs sleeping on stomach in most cases.
    If an airline advertises lay flat seats that do not reclaim to 180 degrees, this is misleading and exposes all passenger to sleep on back.
    If you have one passenger sleeping on their back and snoring so loud that other passengers are unable to sleep, then the money/miles passengers spent to obtain a business class seat to sleep is obsolete, the airline retains an economical benefits in gross earnings, the passengers are subjected to a loss of comfort and therefore indirect financial damages as a result of deceptive advertising.
    It comes down to options, if airline personal can awaken a snoring passenger to communicate a disturbance to that passenger, the condition can be corrected. if the condition can not be corrected or is not corrected.

  24. Follow up on open question above. The airline should compensate all the passengers impacted.
    I have flown on the Lufthansa 170 degree seats, they suck! don’t get me wrong the service was excellent.
    I fly business class for the bed to sleep fully knowing privacy is extremely limited, however excessive interior disturbance is not expectable under any circumstance.
    The key word is disturbance.
    Granted the full range of services justifies the expense but does not substitute for loss of comfort or even worse, subjected to aggravation.

  25. If the moderator could correct the spelling and consolidate both post together, this would allow for better reading.
    PS, I went off tract, but you get the point.

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