Man Sues Sunwing Airlines For Serving Sparkling Wine Rather Than Champagne

Sunwing Airlines is a Canadian low cost carrier with a fleet of 737s. They fly to destinations within Canada, and also to the Caribbean, Mexico, etc.

While they’re a low cost carrier, they’re not an ultra low cost carrier, and make a point of trying to differentiate themselves a bit when it comes to service. They’ve called their service “Champagne Service,” and in many of their marketing materials have used pictures of sparkling wine to go along with that. Furthermore, they’ve advertised a “welcome glass of champagne” as one of their features.

Unfortunately one man from Quebec isn’t too happy with this, and is suing the airline for serving sparkling wine rather than champagne, as he calls it misleading. According to BBC:

Daniel Macduff booked a holiday to Cuba through Sunwing that advertised a complimentary on-board champagne toast.

Mr Macduff, from Quebec, said he received a cheaper bubbly instead – and only on the outgoing flight.

“It’s not about the pettiness of champagne versus sparkling wine,” said Montreal-based lawyer Sébastien Paquette.

“It’s the consumer message behind it.”

The class action lawsuit is seeking compensation for the monetary difference between the wine served and a glass of champagne, along with punitive damages. There are some really cheap champagnes out there, so I wonder how much of a difference that really is.

Sunwings says the lawsuit is frivolous and without merit, and explains what they mean by the term “champagne service:”

In an emailed statement, Sunwing said the terms “champagne vacations” and “champagne service” were used “to denote a level of service in reference to the entire hospitality package” and not to describe the in-flight beverages.

I’m not sure that’s entirely true. While I can see them arguing that the concept of “champagne service” could describe the overall package, they did specifically list “welcome glass of champagne” as an amenity. The airline has now updated their website, and calls their service “award-winning inflight service” rather than “champagne service,” and now also promises a “welcome glass of sparkling wine.”

Am I the only one who feels like this lawsuit might just be great PR for Sunwing Airlines? While I had heard of this airline before, I didn’t realize they actually tried to differentiate themselves on service. Most people would be thrilled with any kind of free sparkling alcoholic beverage!

(Tip of the hat to @JonoH)

Comments

  1. My first thought is that this lawsuit was without merit as Champagne is commonly used to mean sparkling white wine, but it appears that Canada legally limits its use to French DOC champagnes:

    Most recently Australia,[17] Chile, Brazil, Canada and China passed laws or signed agreements with Europe that limit the use of the term “Champagne” to only those products produced in the Champagne region. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Champagne#Use_of_the_word_Champagne)

    So, it’s pretty clearly false advertising to call a class of non-Champagne sparkling wine Champagne. Whether the plaintiff can be said to have been caused any harm by the deception is another matter. There are plenty of superior proseccos and cavas and plenty of inferior champagnes.

  2. As frivolous as this may seem, I think we need to hold airlines especially accountable because we all know their T&C is always a one-way street. They need to know the knife cuts both ways!

  3. A direct analogy would be advertising Coke and serving unbranded cola instead. This shouldn’t be a lawsuit from a customer, whose damage is miniscule, but Canada’s authorities should be prosecuting the airline instead – and giving them a significant fine.

  4. This is ridiculous what this lawyer is doing. Should be happy that they are offering a free glass of sparkling wine. None of the other airlines are doing this

  5. My understanding of Sunwing was that they got everyone tipsy, because only tipsy people can be content with spending that many hours crammed in like sardines.

    Regarding this case, looks like the lawyers missed one instance of “champagne” when they were fixing the marketing material. Anything I’ve read from them always said “champagne service” and “sparkling wine.”

  6. I wish someone would mention exactly what they did serve. I’m curious if the wine served fell under the grandfather clauses in the 2006 agreement the US signed with the EU – this is how André is still allowed to call itself Champagne, but if you started your own winery tomorrow in the US, you’d only be allowed to sell “sparkling wine”

  7. I think it’s actually a decent lawsuit. I understand most Americans have no clue what’s going on with wine (as in Lucky saying you can get really cheap champagnes, implying it’s priced on a level with whatever random sparkling wine you can find).

    The region itself imposes strict standards to keep the name brand intact and no, you can’t find 3 euro champagnes unless it’s a crazy sale of some sort. You can, however, find plenty proseccos for 3 euros.

  8. I hate when companies use “Champagne” in marketing efforts and pour low quality sparkling wine. I hope this gentleman receives a “Champagne” award from the court!

  9. The USA is one of the countries in the world that it’s OK to call sparkling wine, “Champagne”, as the legal protection does not yet extend there. When the EU and the US eventually do a trade deal then that would presumably change, unless the French get there first via the WTO.

    Champagne only comes from Reims.

  10. They clearly use this for marketing and this is clearly false advertizement. I’m not sure what he will get out of this… a champagne bottle?

  11. Personally I can see both sides but believe there is a principle at stake here – that is to say, where is it acceptable to draw the line.

    If, for the sake of argument, Lufthansa claims to serve me a three course hot meal on an intra Europe flight and I’m subsequently served a cold sandwich, should i be happy (coming from easyJet/Ryanair/BA) that I got served anything at all, or should I be aggrieved that I didn’t get what was offered???

    Obviously, the difference in this case is much smaller, but my point is, where do we/should we draw the line and say “ah well, close enough, who cares”?

  12. So Kyle comments:
    >>>>Of course it’s someone from French Canada…

    The plaintiff’s name is Daniel Macduff; such a common traditional french canadian name:-)

  13. if I were the judge, i’d order the plaintiff to take a blind taste test among a flight of wines consisting of Champagne and non-Champagne sparkling wines. if he doesn’t get 100% correct ID of each, he has to pay the ‘punitive damages’ to the airline along w/ all court/legal fees.

  14. “Most people would be thrilled with any kind of free sparkling alcoholic beverage!”

    The sparkling wine wasn’t/isn’t “free,” it’s included in the price of the ticket according to the advertisement.

  15. Class action should’ve sought the difference in fare, on average, between this and an ULCC!

    I’d assume there’s greater damages at stake that way, and there’s a good case that this particular marketing enticed people to buy slightly more expensive tickets for “top notch” (economy…) service.

  16. Typical Québécois! They’re all cheap skinflints. Ask anyone who waits on tables in Florida.

  17. Good for him! Enough with false advertisement, someone should be accountable for misleading customers.

    BTW- i thought champagne WAS sparkling wine…?

  18. Y’all wrong. Lucky’s right. Excellent publicity. The suit is asking for the difference in value of what was promised and what was delivered. Classic expectancy. They’ll settle for virtually nothing.

    Additionally, Champagne (uppercase C) is steadily losing its status as a proper noun. Much like other words that were proprietary and are no longer protected (zipper, thermos, etc), we’re going to start seeing it as champagne (lower case) as a rule. Think of how many people mislabel prosecco, sparkling wine, etc as “Champagne” already.

  19. On Air France’s new low cost off shoot Joon, their marketing slogan is “Let them eat cake!” But, will the targeted Millennials actually get real cake? And if they don’t will there be another French Revolution?

  20. @ Neil: A lot of French Canadians have Irish surnames, from the huge numbers that emigrated here during the potato famine and many years before, to escape religious prosecution. But of course by now they are Irish in name only and their first language in many cases would be French.

  21. I flew them ten years ago from Vancouver to Cuba, and back then they already bragged about “Champagne service”. Guess what? We didn’t get champagne, and not even sparkling wine, so how’s that for being disappointed?

    And they were definitely not low cost, left alone ultra low cost, so I’m glad that someone has decided to sue them for misleading advertising!

  22. @William Y – No, you can’t find plenty of Prosecco’s for 3EUR… Andre’ is not Prosecco, nor is Cava. Both of those are superior products priced 2x over US-produced sparkling wines…

  23. For those who think, or comment, that it’s “typical Quebecois”: this has nothing to do at all with the residence of the plaintiff, but about plain facts.
    And if it was a non-white person, that person’s race would be used as rationalisation.

    And of course Americans would NEVER think of suing for this reason…..

  24. I need a lawyer for this one:

    I slipped and fell in Cayo Santa Maria Starfish resort one night before a show, because of a poorly luminated stair case with either rain water or a spilled drink on the floor at the top of three tiled stairs, 15 feet from a bar in the theatre, this past dec. note: it rained for 5 mins 7 hours prior that day. The hotel said it was rain water!

    Due to this fall it caused a dilocated, displaced right foot and broke my ankle, which was a nightmare from start to finish. No real help from sunwing rep to get home 5 days into my 7 day vacation, no wheel chair and no crutches in all 13 resorts on that coast line, it took 7 hour to return from two hours at the clinic, then the scariest ride of my life in a ambulance all the while holding my own leg in the air, and on the way needing to fill up with gas!! I also needed to go to the bathroom during the two hour ride to the hospital, which ended up with me having to relieve myself off the side of the road, just to add to the humiliation!!!

    On arrival to the hospital, plain clothed man in a very dark delpitated poor excuse for a hospital with no flushing toilets (which I thought was abandoned due to the lack of lighting and condition of the building) said the doctor will replace my foot in the correct position reposition the broken bone and then I will need to go home to Canada to have surgery. To my horror it was he that was to replace my foot and didn’t even wait for the local anesthetic to take, the pain was worst than my 4 births of my children. It took four people to hold me down while I screamed like I never have in my life!!! 18 century medical at it’s best!!

    Then sunwing wouldn’t send me home for two days while I had no pain killers no help from the resort, and then they said it was my fault for wearing sandals, and gave us a hard time about wanting to move from the third floor to the ground floor because of my immobility! One thoughtful employee brought mena bowl of ice to our room. My partner went back to the clinic to get a wheel chair which was falling apart. The next two days we were on our own.

    Then the finally 5 hour flight home turned into a 7 hour return, because the plane ran out of gas, so we needed to make an emergency stop in Calgary, again all the while with me holding my leg straight in the air as I had no medical seat and had no were to elevate my pulsing in pain and now very swollen ankle….I seriously need a lawer that will help us at least get my vacation money back!!!! I find it hard to believe a lawyer would sue for the wrong drink, and I called many injury lawers and got no where…..10 months later…..I still need legal representation for my injury at a Cuba’s Starfish and Canadian maintained ( Blue Diamond resorts) can anyone suggest a good lawyer for this one? This is how they treat Canadians in Cuba! I couldn’t drive for 12 weeks as it was my right ankle, I could not work at my three jobs, which included helping students with special needs at school for 3 months, I suffer from bone and ligament pain, and had a mental plate and 7 screws put in to repair my ankle and had to have a second surgery to remove two screws. It has been a finically painful, pyshically painful and depleating year for us. Still need Help getting some kind payment for my losses and damage, including a ruined vacation!

  25. Claudine:
    From my experience if those injury lawyers are nit begging to represent you, they probably think you don’t have a case. I am assuming it is due to the low likelihood of getting any compensation from a Cuban entity.

    For anyone else in similar situation…. my advice would be to either seek the American hospital (surprisingly many cities have those) or get on the very first flight back home. Then deal with your insurance. At the risk of stating the obvious, pleasrget insurance.

  26. Yet another class action lawsuit where an attorney seeks a nice windfall on the total of nothing any “victim” will get individually. It’s much like the Southwest class action suit over the drink vouchers. I am sorry Canada that we spread our disease to your land.

  27. @Claudine: I concur with Mike. You have practically no claim. It’s Cuba. 3rd world countries don’t care/are practically immune from stuff like this. Especially from countries like Canada that aren’t going to extend a long arm statute to a poor country based on the current political direction. Also, the sob story doesn’t help. If lawyers aren’t groveling, that’s your first sign.

    See if you can get compensation from whatever cc you paid with for trip interruption or something.
    Otherwise, you’re SOL. Better luck with your healthcare system tho.

  28. priority pass lounge in Vegas, The club, I ask the lady working the bar, if she got any sparkling wine. She’s like: “I’ve got champagne, do you want that?” I’m like, sure, need something to knock me off before this too short to sleep transcon…she opens the fridge and I see a bottle of Cava! I told her, that cava would be fine but if she didn’t want to upset both Spain and France, she shouldn’t call
    It champagne. She looked at me
    As if I were an alien…

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