Here’s an unusual case with an equally unusual resolution. It involves two airline passengers, a medical device and EU airline passenger law.
Now, before you say, “How exciting!” consider this — while the case may be exceedingly rare, and while this isn’t exactly a blog about medical supplies, the outcome of this medical device mishap could affect you on your next European flight.
So pay attention, you kids in the back of the class. Yeah, you know who I’m talking about.
Holly Mannchen and her husband were flying from Washington to Turkey on Lufthansa recently via Munich. She says they had sought approval for a portable oxygen concentrator before boarding. Her husband needed the medical device because of a lung condition. The transatlantic flight went smoothly.
Related: In today’s edition of The smarter consumer, learn how to speak corporate-ese.
But then things got complicated, as far as the airline and the medical device were concerned. Mannchen explains,
In Munich we were pre-boarded and sat on the aircraft while all the other passengers boarded. Just prior to takeoff, the pilot asked to see the concentrator, which we showed him.
At that time the pilot refused to let us fly and forced us off the aircraft. The pilot was ignorant as to what an oxygen concentrator was.
We were humiliated. We were escorted off the plane and told not to worry we would be on the next flight. When asked what was the difference between this flight that has not yet left, and the next flight, the gate personel answered “the pilot”. We were eventually booked on the next flight seven hours later.
Mannchen feels she and her husband was denied boarding under EU 261. They want their airline to compensate them.
The definition of “denied boarding” is a little slippery, though, and it doesn’t address traveling with medical supplies.
“denied boarding” means a refusal to carry passengers on a flight, although they have presented themselves for boarding under the conditions laid down in Article 3(2), except where there are reasonable grounds to deny them boarding, such as reasons of health, safety or security, or inadequate travel documentation.
Lufthansa sees things differently. It offered the couple a $100 voucher which needed to be used within a month. That didn’t work for Mannchen.
I contacted the airline on their behalf. It conducted its own investigation and send me the following response:
Passenger safety is the top priority for Lufthansa, and ultimately the Captain of an aircraft has the final say on such issues. As defined in AE 261 Article 2(j) “denied boarding” means a refusal to carry passengers on a flight, except where there are reasonable grounds to deny them boarding, such as reasons of health, safety or security, or inadequate travel documentation. According to the Captain of this particular flight, this was a health / safety issue and he had to make a judgment call, since he is responsible for all passengers. Furthermore, I have been informed that the passenger did not have a doctor’s note on hand to confirm that he was safe to fly.