How much does my airline owe me for a broken seat?

lufthansaElite-level frequent travelers who whine if their lie-flat business seat doesn’t recline all the way are regularly and shamelessly mocked on this site.

I typically have little sympathy for entitled crybabies who can’t lean all the way back, while the folks in economy class are wedged into their seats and can barely move. It’s particularly irritating when it turns out these platinum-plated complainers either didn’t pay for the ticket themselves, footing the bill with their employer’s money, or got to it by unethically “hacking” the system.

So when Andrew Buffen came to me with a problem with reclining seats on a Lufthansa codeshare flight from Chicago to Frankfurt, I almost reflexively sent it to the “case dismissed” file.

But I didn’t.

The lie-flat seats in Lufthansa’s business class are extraordinarily generous, with between 57 and 60 inches of legroom. Even when they don’t recline, they’re kinda over the top, in comparison to the 234 economy-class seats which have an inhumane 31 inches of pitch.

But then Buffen filled in some of the details. He wasn’t asking for himself, but his parents. They’d cashed in some of their own frequent flier miles to get them to Europe. Plus, it was an overnight flight, and it would have been nice if Mom and Dad had been able to use the seats as intended.

“When they boarded the plane the seats did not work,” he says. “They were not able to recline. The attendants did nothing so they had to sleep upright on the way over. My parents also mentioned that the flight attendants were very rude.”

This clearly wasn’t the case of a gold flier throwing a tantrum. I imagine my own parents and what might have been their reasons for trying to upgrade to business class. Since Buffen’s parents weren’t also upset that their Chardonnay wasn’t chilled to the right temperature (another sure sign you’re dealing with a serial complainer) I decided to try to help Buffen’s folks.

First, I recommended they send a brief, polite email to Lufthansa. Because of various codeshare issues, the grievance went to United, and Buffen decided to make a phone call instead of writing. Lufthansa’s contract of carriage, its legal agreement between Buffen’s parents and the airline, doesn’t make any warranties about the usability of its seats, but a guarantee is certainly implied.

“They offered me either 3,000 miles each or a $125 travel certificate each,” he says.

I asked what he thought of the offer. “Crazy,” he said.

I suggested he appeal. He did.

“Now they’re offering 10,000 miles or a $300 travel certificate each,” he says.

That’s better. But is it enough?

Buffen’s parents burned 100,000 miles each for their flights to Europe in business class. So in the final analysis, United and Lufthansa are saying the ability to recline the seat — or, more specifically, being prevented from doing so — is worth about 10 percent of the value of your flight.

The rude flight attendants? Goes with the territory, apparently.

United may raise the ante again if Buffen calls. Or not.

But I do wonder: Would an airline apply the same calculus to a first-class seat? How about an economy class seat? If my seat in steerage doesn’t recline, should I be able to get 10 percent of the fare back?

What's the right compensation for a broken airline seat?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook - LinkedIn - Google Plus

  • polexia_rogue

    the airline got you from point A to point B.

    i cannot sleep even in first class (i just cannot get comfortable sleeping in a chair) so I may be biased. but in my opinion the ability to recline is not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things.

    so yes 10 % is fine.

  • Cat

    They should receive the difference between flying coach and whatever money and points they expended for the seats they should have had. That’s all they got, that’s all they should pay for.

  • jim6555

    I didn’t vote because passenger expectations are higher on business or first class flights than they are for a coach class flight. Buffen’s parents expected to be able to sleep lying down during the overnight flight. They each paid an extra 50,000 miles or more for this privilege. If the airline couldn’t provide seats that become a bed as advertised, it should refund the difference in miles between what was paid and coach class seats. On the other hand, if my coach seat didn’t recline, I would ask the flight attendant if I could move to an empty seat. If no seats were available, I would not contact the airline looking for a compensation unless they did something else as well to anger me.

  • PsyGuy

    If it was me, I’d place a requisition to the repair parts depot and have them sent two fully reclining though no longer suitable for flight chairs. A plane is a bus with engines that transport you from point A too point B, it is not a cruise ship, it is not a hotel.

  • Cybrsk8r

    I disagree. The way I read this, this isn’t an ordinary reclining seat. It’s a “lie-flat” seat that essentially transforms into a bed (actually “cot” might be a more accurate description). Now, if I’m on a run-of-the-mill daytime flight, I don’t see a need for compensation at all if the seat doesn’t recline. But if I’m on an overnight flight and the airline is specifically marketing that seat to me on the principle that it lies flat, it better lie flat. 10% is not enough.

  • Cybrsk8r

    And the point of this would be …. what?

  • Cybrsk8r

    I’m picturing your living room right now. A TV along one wall, and several rows of airline seats.

  • Bettina

    In this case, considering it was an overnight flight and the fact that someone booked business especially to be more comfortable, then the 10 percent is not enough.

    As to the flight attendants being rude, I have to say that is a matter of perception often. While they probably speak good english, German as a language, when literally translated, often sounds rude without the speaker wanting to be so.

    Ask me why? I am German and it took me a long time not just to speak the language but try to actually sound like a native in the way I construct my sentences.

    Example: Would you kindly hand me the stapler?

    In a lot of places, without a “,please?” at the end, it sounds rude, because the please was not explicitly stated. However, in German, if you use the word kindly, this implies the please and therefore saying both is redundant.

    Thus, even though the sentence sounds perfectly right to someone who is German, is gramatically correct, it still is perceived as rude without being mean as such.

    While I do not want to say that the flight attendants were not rude (I wasn’t there?), in this case, some of it might be a case of perception rather than actual rudeness.

  • Grant

    BOTH seats didn’t recline? What are the odds? Something about that just doesn’t ring true.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Agreed. Premium class is a very different animal from coach. IMO, coach has devolved to merely getting you from Point A to Point B. Premium class is to entice you the various amenities including bigger seats, better food, more legroom, etc. and your pay accordingly.

    I do take exception to the statement that people who complain when business class fails to deliver being automatically equated with whiners. If you pay for something then you should get what you paid for. Otherwise somebody’s money is being wasted, although there are some truly trivial complaints those are the exception.

  • sirwired

    In coach class, the ability of the seat to recline is worth very nearly zero. It doesn’t recline much anyway (and in some cases, not at all, by design) so the loss of the reclining doesn’t really make it less comfortable.

    But in business or first (and especially with a lie-flat) on a long international flight, much of what you are paying for is that complete, or nearly complete, seat reclinng. I’d say it’s worth half what you paid for the difference between the new seat and coach.

    And Chris, maybe it’s you that relentlessly mock business-class travelers. The only people in that category that I think deserve to be mocked are those that get their knickers in a bunch because they failed to get a free upgrade and make themselves to be martyrs for flying in coach.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Oh, I agree — and those do get mocked here with some regularity. My heart bleeds for them.

  • Sam Varshavchik

    The real monkey wrench in this story is that, from what I understand, the tickets were bought with funny money. If it was paid with real benjamins, I think they would be in a much better position. All they have to do is come up with what compensation they would be looking for, and demand a refund. And insist that compensation be real money, not funny money. The writer should come up with a reasonable amount of compensation they expect from the airline, and put their demand in writing. When the airline refuses, go for a chargeback.

    But, since the flight was, apparently, paid with funny money, that becomes a bit murky.

    Some years ago, my parents bought a vacation package, somewhere in Mexico. I don’t remember all the details, but it was some kind of an arranged group vacation kind of a deal. The promoter reserved a block of rooms in some kind of a hotel resort, and was selling a vacation package for so many days, in such and such a hotel resort, so you had a bunch of families flying in, as a group.

    Well, when they got there, an announcement was made that he hotel resort was overbooked, and my parents were walked to another resort hotel, nearby.

    After they got back, we talked about this, then we went for a full chargeback. And we got it. It took some wrangling back and forth, but my parents ended up getting a free vacation.

    Our position was that they bought X, and they did not receive X. End of story. They did not agree to any substitute. The travel company’s representative over there basically blew them off, and we used it as a leverage. When they did not receive what they paid for, the travel company did not offer to immediately send them back, from Mexico, and a refund, and they did not accept a substitute. That was basically our argument. It was a very simple argument. They have no obligation to accept any kind of a subsitute, and they were entitled to receive a vacation package they paid for, and they did not.

    It took some back and forth with the credit card company, but they eventually got a FULL refund. I no longer remember all the details, but one thing that stuck in my mind is that, at first, the credit card company wanted to know, for example, how much of the price paid was for airline tickets, and how much for the hotel and resort. Then what was the difference in cost between staying at the original hotel resort, and the substitute one. We just kept replying, and sending copies of the paperwork: we did not know; the bill was for one grand sum, it was not itemized, and it is not our obligation to figure out how to itemized it. We paid for X, we did not get X, we’d like a refund, please.

    The thing about the Fair Credit Billing Act, is that it places no requirement on the consumer to mitigate any damages. If the consumer is given a substitute product, there’s nothing in the Fair Credit Billing Act that requires the consumer to accept it, and states that they must accept it for it’s value, and be entitled to be refunded for the difference.

    Anyway, initially the credit card company baulked. I looked up whichever Fed bureaucracy regulated them. There is, supposedly some Fed bureaucracy whose mission purpose is, ostensibly, to receive consumer complaints specifically about credit card companies. So we took it to them, and they got involved in all the back and forth paperwork. The fed bureaucrat was the one who initially tried to tell us we are only entitled to a partial refund, but without actually explaining what the legal basis for that argument was, and that’s when I replied insisting that the bureaucrat explain what part of Fair Credit Billing Act they’re using as a basis for their response, and which says that if a consumer purchased X on a credit card, received Y, the consumer must accept Y, and is entitled only to the difference between X and Y, even if Y is some part of X. After about twenty bucks’ of certified mail postage, my parents ended up getting a full refund of what they paid, which was about two grand.

    And I certainly feel they were within their rights to get it. And we don’t feel guilty about it. They bought X. They did not X. End. Of. Story. They are not, and should not be, required to pay for something other than X, that was forced down their throats. If travel companies don’t want to get stiffed with chargebacks, don’t overbook the damn hotels, and expect to get away with simply walking people; no matter how nice you claim the replacement accomodations are.

    So, if the writer bought these business class tickets with real money, I think there’s a reasonable chance that they could win a chargeback. But, I think they’ll just have to swallow the pill, and get as much funny money as the airline is willing to give them.

    I guess this is yet another argument against loyalty rackets, and the funny money that goes with it. You really don’t have full consumer protection, when you use them.

  • DChamp

    No, they paid 100,000 each. Read again.

  • drj

    I am soon flying to Europe and have paid w/ miles & $4k for lie flat. Believe me, if they don’t lie flat, I will strenuously complain!

  • JenniferFinger

    Even if a ticket was paid for with miles or vouchers, if the airline represented to the passenger that the seat should recline, then the seat should recline-especially on an overseas flight. Calling the payment “funny money” doesn’t change that.

  • MarkKelling

    He said “extra” 50000. Meaning 50000 more miles just to get the business class seat instead of the economy seat.

  • Bill___A

    I know Chris has a bias about the “elite” passengers but look at this as no more than wanting to get what was offered. Whether you use points, pay money, upgrade, etc., it pretty much always costs considerably more. The payback is supposed to be that you arrive relaxed. This can make a huge difference in some cases. A good friend of mine was working on a project where he had to take six flights to get home. Most people don’t have to do that – and being in business class makes a huge difference. There are also situations where one has to drive once one gets to the destination, and getting that sleep means the difference between losing a day due to being too tired to drive, or being able to drive safely.
    Other people have health problems, and the business class seat is the difference between a normal flight and a flight with pain.

    -The airline offers a “quiet” experience so that you can arrive well rested. Then, they allow babies and unruly children into the cabin.
    – The airline offers “lie flat” seats so that you can sleep.
    Now, all the benefits of the business or first class services are nice, but the number one thing, in my opinion, is that lie flat seat. If you don’t have a lie flat seat, you’re missing out on the most major component of the service.
    They should the difference in points between business class and economy – PLUS a 10% penalty for the inconvenience, or supply a couple of upgrade coupons for a future business class flight. They should not brush it off with some minor consolation.
    Furthermore, they should keep their seats working.
    As for the rude flight attendants – one can expect that on the long haul flights. That’s where the more senior (and grumpy) FA’s work.

  • Casa Mariposa Panama

    I love these situations because they are always thought-provoking. If I read the story correctly, at issue (other than perhaps the rudeness of the FA’s) is the broken seats which did not recline (or lie flat) in business class on an overnight flight.

    On its face, a non-functioning seat may not be that big of a deal, but I agree with Carver that you should get what you pay for (and expect to receive it). On an overnight flight, I would think properly functioning lie-flat seats would be a pretty big deal, especially when you pay a lot of money (and/or points) to expect and receive that level of (perceived) comfort.

    If you liken this situation to a hotel room, what if you checked in only to discover that the bed in the room was broken and you would have to sleep sitting in a (perhaps semi-comfortable) chair? Now, I think to most people, that would also be a big deal. So, what kind of compensation would you expect from a hotel, assuming you had no choice but to accept the room as is? As a hotelier, a room with a broken bed should not be online for rental at all until the problem is resolved. To subject a guest to this sort of nonsense is downright disrespectful.

    But what of the airline? If I had to make a decision, I think at least a 50% refund would be appropriate. Those seats should have been repaired before they were sold, and to ignore the problem was absolutely disrespectful to these passengers.

  • MarkKelling

    I have flown Lufthansa many times. The flight attendants have always been pleasant, helpful, and almost overly willing to provide every passenger in business class everything they need as quickly as they possibly can. True, some are not fluent in English (but why should they be, since they are German?), and some German speakers do come across as gruff but you can tell by body language that they are not being rude. The LH FAs are much more pleasant than flight attendants on most US based airlines (UA is a prime example of mostly rude FAs). Of course you can run into a FA having a bad day on any airline.

    The business class seats on LH for the US to Europe flights vary in how flat they go. Most of the seat are not yet truly lie-flat although LH is replacing them at a fairly rapid pace. Most of the older seats only go to about a 160 degree recline. This to me is a somewhat uncomfortable angle and is not even close to “flat” and I tend to slide downward and have to pull myself back up. This means I tend to not recline as fully as possible.

    Is it possible that the parents got a plane with these types of seats expecting the fully flat ones? And did they complain to the FAs who attempted to explain that this was as far as the seats went? And when they continued to complain, the FAs got annoyed? I am only suggesting this because I find it highly unlikely that two business class seats would be completely out of order on a LH plane. I have had a LH flight delayed because they were repairing a business class seat.

  • EBennetDarcy

    This should be worth at least three quarters of the fare difference between the cost of economy seats and the seats they paid for. After all, they didn’t get a huge amenity that they paid for.

  • MarkKelling

    Domestic 1st class (slightly larger seats than coach still with limited recline) or international (seat contained within a pod where no one has to climb over you that converts into a fully flat bed)? There is a big difference. I still have trouble sleeping on any plane just because of the overall sound level and the people constantly moving around even with the full flat bed.

  • MarkKelling

    And it should not matter how the seat was paid for – cash, miles, vouchers, cows, chickens, sheep, whatever. If you don’t receive what you paid for, you deserve a refund of at least part of what you paid.

  • Mile

    100,000 miles is for a round trip. So if issue was only going over, you could say that the 10,000 miles given was 20% of the half for one way. But coming back is usually all daylight. So the value of the give back is less than 20% but more than 10%.

    My question is whether the seats reclined at all. If they did, but just did not lay flat then 10,000 miles seems to be fair. If not, maybe not.

    Business class provides far more than reclining seats. It provides lounge access, lots of leg room, early on, early off, generous overhead storage, better food, free drinks, better toilet access, etc.

  • MortarMagnet

    I fly Lufthansa, as well as Austrian and Swiss, regularly. I think any of the flight engineers aboard those flights would rather tear their own guts out than have something broken. I have never been treated rudely in business or economy by any of those airlines, but I also speak fluent German and choose to converse in it with the crew. That may be a reason I have no issues like this.

    I think the airline could do much better for Buffen’s parents. The ability to recline when one is trying to sleep is really important, and the night flight makes it even more so. I don’t see this in the article, but was the business class seat area full? If not, why were they not relocated to functioning seats? Had I seen an open seat, I would have relocated myself or my spouse and not bothered with the flight attendant. After all, it’s not like they are stopping to pick up more passengers whilst crossing the Atlantic, right? I think this is a key issue that has been left out of the details, and might make their case all that much stronger if there were no other seats available.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Just to clarify: These tickets were paid for using miles earned from flying. But I agree, no matter how you pay, the seat should work.

  • l2y2

    Points do equal money. We earn our points by using a charge card I I can choose which one to use. Why do you think charge card companies go after people with their points programs? I consider those points very valuable, so please do not under value people using points. I have flown Lufthansa on an overnight with points in business. First, I agree that Lufthansa can do more to make their flight attendants more friendly. They weren’t necessarily rude to us, but they didn’t smile or go out of their way, either. That said, if I had burned up 100,000 points for my 83 year-old mother to travel for 8-9 hours through the night to Europe I would absolutely expect those seats to lay flat. People don’t fly business or first class for the food. They fly it for the reclining and flat seats for more comfort on long-haul, overnight flights. I consider it is almost essential for the over 80’s crowd. Chris, they’re being cheap and careless with his parents and his points, go after them!

  • DReinig

    I had the opposite problem with a seat about 6 months ago. The seat would not stay straight (which I like) and instead reclined fully back. I was on a tiny embraer RJ145 (you know, the one with 1 seat on one side and 2 on the other). It was the afternoon before Thanksgiving on a flight from DCA to EWR on United and I was sitting in the exit row. I reported the issue during boarding. the pilot came back and told me I either had to sit straight for the entire flight with no back support, or get off the plane. With it being the afternoon before Thanksgiving, I kept my seat! It was an extremely uncomfortable flight. While some might have like the reclining option, I get back pain if I recline the seat, and I had been forbidden from allowing the seat to recline.

  • mytimetotravel

    Great analogy. I have flown economy on long distance flights, and I have flown business class in lie flat seats on long distance flights. The difference is night and day, as in one case I sleep, and in the other I don’t. If a seat represented as “lie flat” does not, the passenger has not received what s/he paid for, regardless of the manner of payment, and should be compensated. I would say the difference in miles (or cash, if the ticket was bought for cash) between economy and business class. (I still fondly remember my last long distance flight, Bangkok to London on Qantas, lie flat seats and PJs. I would have been SO miserable in economy.)

  • Deepstardiver

    On an overnight flight I think a lay flat/recline is worth a fair bit more, on a NY to ORD or ORD to DEN, not so much. To me overnight is worth 30-50 % of the miles I use, I have done SFO to San Juan in a long day but would have loved an overnight with lay flat seats, UA has been pushing its SFO/LAX to JFK route with them and I would be really upset if they did not work, like 50 to 75 % of ticket if I “bought ” them because I thought I could rest/sleep. Answer just depends

  • frostysnowman

    Mostly I’m in shock that they were able to get business class seats to Europe for 100,000 miles each. We tried to go to Europe this summer and were going to have to give the airline 130,000 miles for each economy seat!

    But I digress. If the OP’s parents were supposed to be lie-flat seats and they didn’t work at all, that’s a big problem. They paid a premium, through extra miles, to get those seats. The airlines all make a big deal about those seats in advertising to get people to spend more money to be able to fly in them. They all brag about how well the first class/international business class passengers will be treated while flying. I think they deserve more compensation for the seats not working.

  • emanon256

    Except they didn’t fly coach. They still flew in business class with all of the amenities except the reclining seat. I agree they should get something if one of the services wasn’t delivered, but not 100% of the difference.

  • emanon256

    I have no idea why, but I suddenly want to put airline seats in my basement. I have no idea why I find that so funny! I would even be happy with coach seats.

    I guess its not too crazy, I have a cousin who bought old Yankee Stadium seats or his living room.

  • $16635417

    I keep mulling over the same idea. Sometimes I’ll go to ebay to search for them but never pulled the trigger.

  • emanon256

    Ive flown Lufthansa many times, usually in coach. However I have flown in business class on miles. On all of my flights, the business class flat seats were what they called angled lie flats. As in, they are flat, but never fully recline. I believe the true lie flats are only in first, not business. The angled lie flats are sort of like little slides, but allow them to fit more seats since they don’t fully recline. The fact that both of their seats did not go flat (Whats the chance of two broken seats not being fixed and both being next to each other) makes me think they may have had angled lie flats and expected true lie flats, and this misunderstanding is the reason for their complaint. If that’s the case, I don’t believe they are entitled to anything as they got the service they purchased. However, if the seats really didn’t work, then I do believe they should get something, And I would hope it would be more than 10%, though its hard to put a number on it. In all honesty, if it were me, I would be happy I got the 10% and move on, but I do feel its low for paying for a lie flat seat that didn’t recline at all.

    As far as complaining about the fligth attendants begin rude, that could be a cultural difference. In all of my LH flying, I have found the FAs to be all about business. They don’t chat, make small talk, smile, etc. They get their job done and they do it very well. I for one would rather have an attentive FA who provides great service, than one who stands around smiling and chatting but forgets to bring people water.

  • Susan Burke

    Paying with miles is equivalent to paying with money or may be even more at times because you end up using your miles against full fare value and not the web fares or discounted fares. These miles were accrued against some spending done either on the airline or other wise. My point is if I pay X, I need the appropriate value for X. Why should I settle anything less just because I paid with miles. And who knows, the passenger behind me would have got a free upgrade because the airline was overbooked in coach.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    My first thought is, the airline did get his parents to their destination so, no, I’m not sure they deserve much more than they’ve been offered.

    No, the seats didn’t recline and that does make for an uncomfortable overseas flight but, again, they did get to their destination. I feel to make much more of this is someone trying to enrich themselves, or in this case, their parents.

    I’d take the latest offer and move on.

  • Frank Windows

    If I burn the extra FF miles for a first-class seat, I usually have a reason — most likely because I want to sleep on the flight so I can be well rested for a trip in Europe. No sleep means missing a half a day or more of vacation while my body catches up. The OP’s parents did get to Europe, but they did not get what they paid for. (Chris, I know you think FF miles are a joke, but I see them as legit currency.) My suggestion to the airline would be to refund the mileage difference between business class and first — I’m guessing 50,000 miles per traveler.

  • Frank Windows

    Sorry, I meant the difference between business class and coach.

  • Frank Windows

    I would assume they were flying business mainly for the lie-flat seats, not for the better food.

  • James Orth

    I agree with you Mark, one should get what one pays for or at least reasonably close to what one paid for. I also realize that does leave room for disagreement as to when you got what you paid for and when you are asking for more than you paid for. In this case I believe that the OP got substantially less than what they paid for. As for rude treatment from the F.A.s that should not be, but sometimes when you complain with attitude then don’t be suprised when you get attitude in return. Respect and civil treatment should be a Boulevard not a One Way Street.

  • jeff

    it seems like bait and switch to me. no matter what the contract of carriage says the aitline promised a lie flat seat and didnt deliver. they owe the difference between coach and business class fares

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I have to respectfully disagree. The “we got you to your destination” might work for coach. But if that’s all that’s promised, why pay the substantial premium for business or first. Presumably the airline is promising something more than just point A to point B

  • john

    In Chris’ post, he says that the complaint went from LH to United, so obviously it was a United plane that had the broken seats. I’ve flown both airlines and IMO Lufthansa wins hands down. The rude FAs and broken seats are business as usual for UA.
    That being said United should refund half the miles, because as lots of people have said already, they advertise their Business First as the next great flying experience.
    And the biggest selling point is the lie flat seats.

  • Asiansm Dan

    A lie flat seat don’t recycle is less comfortable than a regular seat. When not lie flat, the seat must be on Z shape (half recline) . If the seat doesn’t recline at all, it’s very uncomfortable, more uncomfortable than economy seat who is designed for the up position. Lie flat seat/bed are not designed for stay long at up position, only for takeoff and landing.
    The OP should receive at least the difference of the fare plus compensation for being uncomfortable. A full refund sound reasonable to me if the Airlines want to keep this customer.
    Less than that I would change Airlines to patronize more my Business Class fare or Mileage.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I was particularly thrown by Chris saying that it made a difference if the business had payed for the seats as opposed to the individual. I’ve known plenty of people who might shrug something off if it was their own money, but were absolute tigers when it came to the employer’s money. That doesn’t make them a whiner, just a really good steward of other people’s money.

  • Ian Parrish

    Something about this is really quite odd. It seems rare that business class seats malfunction in pairs. The other thing that’s not brought up is that business class seats almost always can be manually put into “bed” mode. I’ve seen this happen on several flights. So, I doubt that they actually had to sit completely upright for their whole flight. More likely, they couldn’t get the seat to any intermediate position.

    Just for a compensation datapoint, on a flight from EWR -> CDG last year, the entertainment system wasn’t working. A few hours after I landed I had an e-mail proactively offering compensation which was a choice between something like $350 and 25,000 miles.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    It does seem strange. Then again, if it was user error, surely the attendants could have rectified the situation. I also wish the letter would have provided some detail on how exactly multiple flight attendants were rude to them. Much like the seats, maybe one attendant was having a bad day, but plural?

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I don’t understand why expecting to get what they paid for is an example of improperly wanting to enrich themselves, while the airline failing to deliver the amenities they charged a large sum of money for is A-OK.

  • Adam_The_Man

    Yet another scam, they knew the OP was using miles and scammed them out of good seats. They give the bad seats on purpose to people using miles because you cant charge back miles.

  • emanon256

    Other amenities they received above and beyond coach include:

    3 inch wider seat
    Over 2 feet more leg room
    No one reclining into them
    Power outlet in their seat
    Big screen TV in their seat
    Better Meals (You mentioned)
    Better Alcohol
    Lounge Access
    Larger baggage allowance
    Priority baggage handling
    Newspaper and Magazine Service

    Like I said they should get something back, but why 100% of the cost when they received so many other enhanced services?

  • Geographer

    Rude FA’s. German personnel, or French personnel, I heat the same quite often. The French are rude, are the Germans too? Have been married almost 50 years to a French wife, passed some months every year in France … The French are not rude, they are much more formally polite than many Americans, they begin each contact with “Bon jour, Monsieur, Madame, and proceed from there … When not greeted in the same way they may find the cheery, overly gushing Americans, are impolite. Saying “Hi, and launching into your demand, just does not hack it.

    Yes, there are real differences of cultural style and expression which can be misread as rudeness.

  • DavidYoung2

    On an overnight flight from Chicago to Frankfurt, a seat that is supposed to be lie flat and doesn’t even recline is a big, big deal. It’s not a 10% deal (we’re out of Champagne, the amenity kits didn’t arrive) or a 25% deal (your personal entertainment system doesn’t work). It’s the difference between economy and business.

    So refund the difference between economy and business. That’s fair.

  • noah

    Would the ticket have cost the same number of miles on a flight that didn’t have reclining seats? I suspect the answer is yes. If so, the value of the reclining seats is $0.

  • Vinnmann11

    I agree with other comments that the big draw of J is the seat and additional comfort it provides. Yes, you get better food, drinks, lounge access, but I have never heard anyone say they wanted to fly carrier X over carrier Y because of food, drinks, or lounges. However, I have heard people (and I have done this) choose carrier carrier X over Y because Y has cradle seats and X has lie-flat seats. Have you ever heard anyone say “I know that Airline A has such comfortable seats & I sleep like a rock in them, but their Cabernet is so awful that I fly Airline B even though I arrive with a backache every time I fly Airline B” I think if I heard that I would be offering to take that person straight to the mental ward. Even the airlines know that the seat is the real draw. That is why they have interactive seats on their website, virtual cabins for people to view, and promote “newer” and refurbished planes. Then they have a still photo and a small paragraph discussing the other perks of flying J.

    Assuming that there were no issues on the return flight, I think they should receive 20k miles each or some sort of unrestricted future upgrade certificate. The 20k miles is the difference between a one-way coach award and a J award on UA. One could argue that because they enjoyed the other amenities they deserve less. However, as indicated above, the seat is the draw and the seat did not function. One could also argue that they deserve more because they lost some vacation time due to being not rested, sore, etc.

    Chris, I think your comment that people with a complaint that didn’t pay for their seat are irritating is way off base. If I used my miles or upgrade certificate, I often had to pay a higher
    priced coach fare to do that and I used my miles to do it. If my employer paid for a J seat it is because I negotiated flying J for flights over a certain length as part of my compensation & benefits, or they feel the added comfort is worth the expense to have me arrive fresh. I used to frequently fly to Italy in for work. I would depart on Monday, arrive Tuesday, Work 4-5 hours Wednesday, and return on Thursday. After my third miserable trip in Y, I convinced my employer that it is better to pay the extra $$$ to fly me in J so I could depart Tuesday, arrive & work on Wednesday, and return on Thursday. Since I flew J and could arrive rested, I was able to shave a day off the trip resulting in less hotel, per diem, rental car, etc. expenses and allow me to spend an extra day in the office generating income.

    I did the Italy run once or twice a month for 4 years and I was seated in broken seats 5 or 6 times. Most of the time, the FA was able to move me to a different seat. Once there were no other seats available and I was stuck in a non-functioning seat. I requested 25K miles as compensation since that is what I paid to upgrade. The airline sent a letter of apology and credited my account with 25k miles. My (long winded) point is to ask for what you want when seeking a remedy to an issue. My experience is that if it is a reasonable request, airlines and other companies will try to do what they can to make you a happy customer.

  • Vinnmann11

    Are you trolling or serious? LH allows you to choose your own seats in advance. Even if LH assigned their seats, how would LH know that that particular aircraft with broken seats would be on that particular route on that particular day with x number of broken seats and x number of award pax?

  • TonyA_says

    Besides accounting for every detailed option that is “missing” is a pain.
    So I agree with you :)

  • WhyDidntIThinkOfThat

    Sam, I could not agree more. If every business were required to provide the product or service that they advertise and accept payment for, what a wonderful world this would be. If it’s quantifiable and verifiable – not subjective – then the person who paid for X should get X or get a refund. Book a seat on a certain plane and did not get it due to overbooking – full refund. Book a room at a hotel and get walked due to an issue beyond the consumer’s control – full refund. Imagine how quickly the businesses would get themselves in order once they saw a significant impact to their bottom line!

  • emanon256

    I no longer think this guy is a troll, he has been on here a while and has made some valid points, and some pretty funny posts. He does seem to call everything scam which I find annoying, however I fidn the guy who only says, “If I paid in cash, I should get refunded in cash.” even more annoying.

    Anyway, while I usually disagree with Adam, I think he has a valid point. I have flown LH on code share ticket by UA many times and you do not get to choose your own seats in advance. Not even always at check in. Typically I get my seats assigned to me at the gate and that’s true for coach and business. While I doubt they were trying to scam the OP, I wouldn’t put it past an airline to give the worse seats to the people who paid the least when doing gate assignments.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    Another shining example of United’s non-existent customer service.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    If I use my United miles to book a ticket on Lufthansa, I will call Lufthansa and give them the ticket number because United’s confirmation number is not the same as LH’s. Then with the proper LH confirmation number, I go to LH’s website, enter my LH booking/confirmation number and are able to pick my seat going from IAD to either FRA or MUC.
    Can’t select my seats on LH on the European legs though.

  • emanon256

    When flying from NYC to Europe, I have to decide between LH and UA. UA has true lie flat seats, and LH has the angled lie flats (Which is still what I think the OP had, and complained because they don’t know the difference between the two). I choose LH over UA giving up the better seat, in order to get the better AVOD on LH, the better food on LH, and the better wine selection on LH. I kid you not. I can’t sleep well on planes, both seats are comfortable for lounging, so I go with the better amenities over the better seats. And the food on LH is like going to am amazing multi course four or five star restaurant while UA’s food makes Denny’s look good. Feel free to send me to the mental ward.

  • Tones

    It’s one thing to be a Negative Nancy and complain about other aspects of the flight, but my God, we PAY for a properly working seat. That’s the ONLY thing we pay for as passengers (a seat that will get us to our destination)– not including the luggage fees, meal fees, etc, that we ALSO must pay for. And I use the word “pay” both literally and with respect to frequent flier miles.

    How dare the airlines that market their products as having guaranteed premium product attributes like recline, leather, headrests– even in coach– and then turn around and say they make no promises re: the usability of the seat. Give me a break! If they can’t provide the product they market, they should not be in business.

    The airlines owes this person a full refund or return of the points.

  • TonyA_says

    I wonder if I can get a refund if my seats in Yankee Stadium Or MSG is not up to par :)

  • TonyA_says

    I agree with you. They got from point A to B. The service might have suck so don’t fly that airline again. Move on.

  • emanon256

    Thank yo, I will try that next time.

  • Vinnmann11

    Where can you find an airline that flies business class across the ocean with seats that are not intended to recline?

  • Eileen

    Split the difference. 25% and call it good

  • Vinnmann11

    As you state, both seats are comfortable for you because you do not sleep on planes. The seats may be different styles, but if they are both comfortable for you, then isn’t the seat quality a wash and you are choosing LH over UA for the other services? If the LH seat caused you to arrive in pain and the UA seat did not, would you still choose LH over UA?

  • emanon256

    Depends on how much pain. The food is really amazing!! I might even pick LH over UA if it was one of the old barca lounges which aren’t nearly as comfortable just webcast of the other amenities provided by LH. However if it was LH coach v. UA Business, I would pick UA.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    By definition, seats in Yankee Stadium are not up to par.


  • Barry Moss

    If I fly first/business class on an international flight, I do so with the expectation that the seat will recline flat and I can at least try to get some sleep. That is the biggest single factor over flying coach. The extra leg room, the better food, bigger screen for the entertainment system are all nice, but they aren’t essential; getting some shut-eye on a 9 to 15 hour red eye is, whether I’m going on vacation or going to a business meeting after I land. It shouldn’t matter what currency I paid in (cash, credit, vouchers, miles or some combination), or who paid for (myself, my employer, or a family member). An appropriate compensation would be at least 50% of the difference between a coach fare and a business/first class fare in whatever currency was used to pay for the ticket. If the airline wants to issue a voucher instead of cash on a cash paid flight, then that figure should be higher since it may be difficult to use the voucher.

  • Barry Moss

    If all that matters is getting from point A to point B, then the airline should be happy to provide a full refund of the difference between the coach and business class fare since all they did was get the customer from point A to point B.

  • Vinnmann11

    Let’s compare what they got per your list:

    3 inch wider seat – OK

    Over 2 feet more leg room – The extra legroom is there so the seat can recline & go flat not because they want to give you lots of legroom. So I am not sure that is a real benefit that can be claimed.

    No one reclining into them – Preparation and a good seat in Y gives you that. Since they planned the trip ahead, I don’t think this is a real benefit that can be claimed.

    Power outlet in their seat – Y has power outlets too
    Big screen TV in their seat – Y has TV’s
    Better Meals (You mentioned) – OK
    Better Alcohol – OK
    Lounge Access – OK
    Larger baggage allowance – Did they have enough baggage that if they flew J they would have had to pay extra? Most people I know are fine with the typical Y baggage allowance on international flights.
    Priority baggage handling – Not sure I see the benefit if the first day is ruined by fatigue due to a broken seat.

    Pre-Boarding – They are an older couple and could have pre-boarded in Y.

    Newspaper and Magazine Service – OK, but what is the real value of a 50 cent paper being offered?

    A refund of the mileage difference between Y & J on the outbound seems right to me. If they do that, the net trade is that the airline provided the better booze, food, magazines wider seat, and a lounge as compensation for the lost & fatigued day of vacation.

  • bodega3

    Yes, not al business class seats lie flat. I wasn’t that comfortable in myLH business class seat due to the angle but it beat flying coach!

  • Cybrsk8r

    Big screen TV in their seat? How big can it be?

    No one is suggesting a 100% refund, just the difference between the fare for the lie-flat seat they paid for, and a non-lie-flat seat they actually got.

  • Cybrsk8r
  • Sam Varshavchik

    I don’t think you can generalize it to include classical cases of getting walked.

    If you, on your own, get into your bat-mobile and travel to Gotham City, try to check in using your reservation at the Gotham Hilton, and you are told that they’re full, you are certainly entitled to be refunded whatever you paid for your reservation. If you agree to be walked to the Gotham Hyatt, you’ve accepted the substitute, and at this point you’re no longer owed anything.

    My case was a little bit different. My parents bought an entire vacation package which included the airline, hotel, and excursions, on one bill. And in the manner that it went down, they really weren’t given any meaningful option to unwind everything. It wasn’t even a “take it or leave it” kind of a deal. It was, more or less “take it, you’re getting walked, and you have no other choice, we certainly won’t take you back to the airport, right now, and put you on the next flight home”.

    Basically, the way it went down, they were told, more or less: ok, you don’t like it, you can go home on your own, go back to the airport on you own dime, fly home on your own dime. We argued that this option was unconscionable, and bogus. My parents were entitled to a refund, as a matter of law, because they did not get what they paid for. The fact that they received something else, a stay a different resort, is immaterial. They did not agree to it, but after they formally refused, the travel agency still gave it to them. But their refusal served notice that they have not waived their rights under the Fair Credit Billing Act.

    The way I see it: it’s not like the travel coordinator realized, five minutes before the plane landed with everyone on it, that they overbooked the hotel. They must’ve known it for a while. The professional thing to do would’ve been to call people, as soon as the travel company knew they made a mistake, and tell them that. Give them an option to cancel, or some alternatives. But no. They wanted to be greedy. They thought that everyone, upon arrival, would be pretty much captives, and have no choice or say in the matter. They were rude about it. Completely unprofessional. I’m glad I made them eat the cost of my parents’ entire vacation. Serves them right.

  • Sam Varshavchik

    I am not disputing that the complaint is somehow less legitimate because it was paid with airline miles. My last paragraph summarized what I said.

    If the tickets were purchased with plastic, instead of funny money, the consumer would’ve been in a much better position to demand compensation. The Fair Credit Billing Act applies. If the consumer did not get what they paid for, the act says they’re entitled to chargeback the transaction. Furthermore, as I’ve successfully argued before, nowhere in the act does it say that the consumer is required to accept any kind of a substitute merchandise or service, and must accept it, and is only entitled to be refunded the difference between the substitute and the real thing.

    But because the tickets were purchased with miles, you do not have this particular bargaining chip. That’s all I’m saying.

    I would not dispute anyone who would claim that they’re entitled to a full refund, and get all their miles back. They purchased something they did not get. So they’re entitled to unwind the entire transaction, and get back whatever they paid for it, real or funny money. It’s just that — without at least the additional consumer protection one gets by paying with plastic — I think it’s the chances are quite slim. I think that the law on chargebacks is very simple to read, quite clear, and unambiguous. You buy X. You did not get it. You get your money back. Whether you got Y instead of X, is immaterial. But, when plastic is not involved, none of that applies.

    And the contract between the airline and the passenger is not just for transport from point A to point B. The airline also offers the passenger a choice of amenities, in terms of the cabin class selection, and various frills that go with it, at different price points, so a good argument can be made that all of this is an integral part of X. And I would argue that even if the airline’s bill itemizes the price for the cattle class and an upgrade to a higher class separately. Now, if you showed up at the airport, and were told that you’re getting bumped down through no fault of your own, all you’re legally entitled to is to get your money back and go home. You are not required to accept the downgrade. That’s not what you paid for. But if you did not find out that something was missing until after the cabin door closed, you no longer had the option of going home, so I’d argue that you’re entitled to a full refund, even though the airline got you to point B. And that’s the case here, but, again, it would’ve been better if it was paid by plastic.

    And even if the airline’s contract of carriage specifies that you’re only entitled to partial compensation, I would argue that any such provision is void as a matter of law. No airline’s own contract can legally supercede federal law. If a federal law says you get what you paid for, or your money back, then that’s what it says, as far as I’m concerned. Thankfully, none of my immediate family members wound up in such a predicament, so I don’t really know how much this argument would fly (pun not intended). Hopefully, I never get to find out.

    My only point was: put this down as another notch against the perceived value of airline loyalty programs. They’re worthless. You can try to use them, to get some perks. Hopefully, it works out. But if it’s not, /your/ loyalty, that you’ve just redeemed, is gone. And you have very little to show for it.

  • Cybrsk8r

    It would be beyond cool to be watching “Airport” in your video room, sitting on actual airline seats. And maybe you could rig a system to drop the O2 masks from the ceiling when that guy sets his bomb off in the john.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    there’s no talk of refund, it’s miles or travel certificate.
    Airlines can’t afford to refund anything these days.
    Don’t even understand why all tickets are completely non-refundable including taxes & charges.
    They could simply say fare is non-refundable & taxes & charges are cancellation fees.
    Take out travel insurance !!!

  • Sally Mitchell O’Neill

    I recently flew first-class to Europe. It was my first-class overnight trip in a few years. The seats are not intuitive. There is a catch that needs to be clicked to rotate the seats before they will recline. My guess is that these people did not know this, were too shy to ask, and the flight attendents were not about to help. There are rude flight attendents all over the place, but usually not in first class. I hope they have their names.

  • teddybeargraham

    sounds like if it can’t recline it’s the same as an economy seat, so give back 80,000 miles each or 160k miles. they got a economy seat with leg room.

  • emanon256

    Well I will respectfully agree to disagree. In my opinion the leg room and the no reclining are the main factors, even if my own seat doesn’t recline. I have no leg room in coach, and when someone reclines in front of me I am usually in pain. Neither of those occur in J, even if the seat doesn’t recline. And none of the Lufthansa planes I flew on had power in Y, and the TV in Y was tiny, and has less programming than the one in J.

  • emanon256

    In Business its 15″ v. the 4″ one in coach. And Business has 70 movies, while coach has 30 movies. The problem is the airline doesn’t price differentiate the amenities, the lie flat seat is just one amenity and its not guaranteed as not all planes have them. Thats why I think there should get something in between the difference between business and coach for that segment, but not the full difference.

    I still think they had the angled seat, which is not a lie flat, but they expected a lie flat, and due to the language barrier they never understood that.

  • emanon256

    Awesome!!!! They are pricey though. I really want to put a big screen TV in the basement and I think it would be perfect with Airline Seats. But the wife is rolling her eyes at me and just told me no :)

  • emanon256

    I love it!!!!

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    That’s a fair point. The problem is that its impossible to place a value on those items. Suppose the OPs parents are

    Computer illiterate

    Most of the amenities might not mean much to them.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    yeah, except they’re out tons of money or points.

  • TonyA_says

    True it really sucks! I will be mad, too.
    But I cannot figure out how to pro-rate the refund.
    Currently it is not fair to get barely nothing. But how to decide these cases?
    Maybe lawyers can help come up with a pro-rate schedule that the DOT mandates.

  • TonyA_says

    If so are they cheaper? Is there are difference of fare between lay-flat, angled lay-flat, etc in business class. I don’t think so, That is noah’s point. I believe the contract of carriage only specifies a cabin type, nothing else about finer points.

  • TonyA_says

    Can you please tell me where in the Lufthansa contract with the flyer did they promise to provide a lay flat seat?

  • Bill___A

    Because the lie flat seat is the “major” advantage. The other things are minor in comparison. Having flown across the puddle both ways, many times, it “is” the lie flat seat, period.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I don’t practice in this area but I can give you a general principle. If you don’t get what you bargained for, you are entitled to a refund less any value that you received. However, it’s on the breaching party to establish the value of what you received. Thus, the burden of proof and production lays with the airline to establish the value of the what was received. So any difficulty in establishing the value above and beyond the coach price is the airlines problem, not the OPs.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    But if the carriers advertise something, they have to deliver.

  • Lindabator

    But if you’d paid 4 times more than everyone else for better seats, you would be entitled to them.

  • TonyA_says

    OK so what? Is there anything in the contract where the airline promised them a lay-flat seat?

  • Lindabator

    NO – coach seats were half that

  • Lindabator

    Thank you!

  • directions

    Geez I’m also 80 and I sit upright in coach and never put my seat back to bother others or even in lie flat it’s still a hassle flying period is not easy, you just have to rough it if you fly or STAY home.

  • ChBot

    When I lived in Mexico a (long) while ago, you had 4 bus classes. One of them came with flat beds. So even your bus can come with perks and comfort !…

  • TMMao

    They’re not rude, they’re curt and efficient, as their culture values that. Anyone that expects Asian levels of politeness and service from a German airline has the wrong expectations.

  • James Orth

    OP said his parents were treated VERY RUDELY that is not curt and efficent my comment was that CIVILITY is a Boulevard (in case you don’t know what that is it is a TWO WAY STREET

  • gg

    I concur with you Barry. Who paid for the ticket and how should not matter. Most people book the first/business class ticket for a reason (no, that is not Champagne).

    As for the rude behavior: Attila calls LH for lessons.

  • NVskier

    We fly from SFO to FRA often on either UA or Luft and I always carefully pick a flight with a plane that ensures me a lie flat seat in business so that we can sleep. My husband is 74 yrs old and 6’3″ tall with back issues so this is crucial to our comfort. I would be livid if we did not get what we paid for and need, no matter how we paid for it. However, on a UA flight from SFO to SAO last year in business my entertainment system did not work. I was offered the option to move to another seat but chose not to leave my husband. At the end of the flight a nice attendant gave us a bottle of wine for the inconvenience. And, by the way, I never met a flight attendant on Luft who did not speak English! They do!

  • Mundane Lustrator

    Wow, Chris, your disdain towards a certain type of flyer really shows. You threw out, what, six barbs in the first few sentences?

    It’s your blog and I get you are easily irritated by flyers who blah, blah, blah, but I am still surprised by this public display of vitriol. I’ve been reading your blog for a few months and rarely have seen you attack people. (That role is usually left to the commenters. ;-) )

  • Christopher Elliott

    I can see how it looks that way. It’s not the color of the card, but the attitude that often goes with it, that I find upsetting. But that’s another story …

  • Travelnut

    I’m not rich by any means, and I’m lucky to get one business trip a year. I fly 2-3 times a year for pleasure. I try to be out of the country on my birthday (this year it’s Scandinavia!), and my birthday splurge for myself is business class. Sometimes I have the miles, other times I pay. Either way it’s either pretty much my entire miles balance, or a huge chunk of my income. If I’m going to pay the huge difference between business and coach, do I want the amenities I paid for? You bet. If that makes me entitled, then entitled I must be. I prefer to think I just want to get what I paid (a lot) for.

    Back on topic – after reading the thread, my verdict is that generally, the reclining seat is about 25% of the extra value of business class (I think the extra leg room/fewer seats per row is 50-60%, for me, and they still got that), so take the difference in the # of miles between business and coach, times 25% (IMO) for the non reclining seat, divide by two since it looks like this was just a problem one way. But I agree with some posters that the plane might not have had full lie flat seats at all, the OP’s parents plus LH FA’s for whom English was a second language = communication breakdown, so they were upset that the FAs wouldn’t help them while the FAs didn’t understand the question. I’m surprised the other passengers didn’t help. Anyway, I think their compensation was probably sufficient.

  • BMG4ME

    Thanks for the clarification. As a long time fan and friend of yours I was a little surprised by your comments before your reply here. I actually was in a similar situation with American in January. I didn’t actually ask for compensation because I wasn’t planning on sleeping anyway (and they did offer me the option to move to a seat that was working). Nonetheless, the flat bed today is a feature of business class and (at least for the outbound trip) one of the main reasons why I would spend the extra miles (or money if I had it). Someone traveling in business class has every right to compensation if one of the main features is broken. Thanks for the clarification. Now I’ve read this, I think that maybe I should have asked for a coupon!

  • Mundane Lustrator

    That comes across a little judge-y. Someone pays for something they don’t get and therefore they shouldn’t fly? Some people don’t have perfect health so they shouldn’t fly?

    It’s great that you are so hale at your age, but not everyone is as lucky as you, but they have the right to fly, and yes, pay for extras like lie-flat seats if they want.