Passengers that book a Business Class ticket should not have to accept a downgrade to Economy Class, a German court has ruled. In a recent case, the judge found that Economy Class was an inadequate and unequal replacement for a paid Business Class ticket.
This may sound like common sense, but involuntary downgrades are more common than you might expect. In addition, the level of compensation offered by airlines in the case of downgrades can range from generous to woefully unacceptable.
While this case took place in Germany, the court’s ruling sets an interesting precedent for involuntary downgrades. The court found that airline passengers should not be obliged to accept a downgrade. If a flight is overbooked or does not operate for any reason, airlines and travel agents have a responsibility to re-accommodate passengers in their originally-booked class of travel.
Many passengers pay for Business Class because they require the additional comfort – either for health reasons or because they have a full work schedule upon arrival. Business Class airfares cost significantly more than Economy Class, and the product is very different, so we consider this to be a fair ruling.
German newspaper Reiserecht Aktuell reports that an airline customer in Cologne had sued their travel agent because their originally booked flights to the Dominican Republic had been cancelled. The travel agent offered replacement flights in Economy Class with an additional overnight stop along the way. The original flights were no longer available because the airline in question had become insolvent.
The travel agent argued that millions of other travellers also fly in Economy Class, so the complainant should accept the downgrade.
The judge disagreed, ruling that the new flights being offered were not of equivalent value. The travel agent was ordered to compensate 50% of the airfares paid to the customer, who did not end up taking the trip.
If an airline tries to downgrade you from your booked class of travel, remember that you do not have to accept their offer of compensation at face value. If possible, ask to be put onto a different flight in your originally booked class of travel.
If it is not possible to travel on another flight, and you consider the offer of compensation for the downgrade inadequate, do not immediately accept what the airline is offering. It is much more difficult to negotiate better compensation later, and once you board the flight, this is generally considered acceptance of the airline’s offer.
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