After TJ McDonald upgraded his airline seat, he was looking forward to flying in comfort from Chicago to Warsaw, Poland. Instead, he spent his flight enduring a barking dog.
The subject of animals on airplanes is a highly controversial one. Many people would like to ban animals from the cabins of commercial flights.
After listening to the dog bark for nine hours, McDonald is among them. He wants a refund from LOT Polish Airlines as compensation for the lack of peace and quiet. But in seeking a refund of his upgrade, is McDonald barking up the wrong tree?
McDonald paid $350 to upgrade his flight on LOT to Premium Economy Class. After he took his seat, a couple boarded the plane and sat down behind him. They had a small dog with them, which was apparently not a service dog nor even an emotional-support animal. McDonald’s paper trail does not indicate whether the dog was in a carrier.
The dog barked without stopping as the flight taxied to the runway and took off, and continued barking for at least three-quarters of the flight. Although McDonald complained about the barking and other passengers were “making comments,” neither the owners nor the flight attendants did anything about it. McDonald had noise-canceling earphones, but they were of limited help. (He says he “didn’t complain often.”)
According to McDonald, the flight attendants were “very good.” He adds, “I know it wasn’t their decision to let the dog on.”
McDonald wrote to LOT’s customer service to request a refund for the upgrade. LOT’s response was “since no one else complained, they couldn’t do anything” for McDonald.
At that point McDonald contacted our advocates, who directed McDonald to post about his case in our forum.
Our forum advocates suggested that McDonald write a letter to LOT’s executives and work his way up the corporate hierarchy, asking for reimbursement of the $350 upgrade fee. They also inferred that the change in cabin pressure hurt the dog’s ears and that its owners had failed to properly prepare the dog for the flight. But they indicated that this was a difficult situation for everyone on the plane, and the flight attendants couldn’t have done anything about the barking.
LOT’s conditions of carriage provide that
Carriage of dogs, cats and other pets requires the prior consent of the carrier. Such animals should be put in proper containers provided with food and accompanied by valid health and vaccination certificates, entry permits and other documents required by authorities of the country of destination and authorities of transit countries.
The conditions of carriage do not explicitly address any liability resulting from animals causing annoyance or harm to other passengers. But this provision concerning passenger conduct presumably applies to pet owners whose pets are annoying or harming other passengers or crew members:
If, in the view of the carrier, a passenger’s conduct on board the aircraft endangers the aircraft or any person or property on board, or makes it difficult for crew members to perform their duties, … or behaves in a manner to which other passengers may reasonably object, the carrier must take such reasonable measures as it deems necessary to prevent continuation of such conduct, including means of constraint, removal of the passenger from the aircraft after landing and refusal of onward carriage or future carriages of the passenger. In order to ensure the safety of the flight as well as safety and order on board the aircraft, the aircraft commander shall be entitled to issue instructions to all persons on board the aircraft, and all persons on board the aircraft are obliged to comply with instructions of the commander. The carrier reserves the right to pursue claims against any passenger who caused damage to another passenger or the carrier.
As for a refund, the conditions indicate that
If the passenger wishes a refund on his/her ticket for reasons other than those set out in par. 11.3 of this Article, and the applied tariff does not exclude the right to a refund, the amount of the refund shall be:
If a portion of the ticket has been used and the fare conditions allow for this, the refund shall be the amount equal to the difference between the fare paid and the fare applied for the route travelled on the basis of the ticket presented for refund, decreased, as the case may be, by any cancellation fees resulting from the use of the given special fare or a handling fee charged for refunds, if such fee is applicable …
Unfortunately, this wording doesn’t make clear whether not McDonald could expect a refund. But some compensation for having to sit in front of a barking dog for nine hours seems reasonable – regardless of whether any other passengers complained. That’s not an appropriate standard for any company to use in deciding whether a customer has a valid complaint.
Our advocates are wondering if they should reach out to LOT on McDonald’s behalf. Can McDonald hope for any compensation for having to listen to the barking for nine hours? And does “no one else complaining” absolve LOT of any responsibility for the situation? If they reach out, will they be chasing their own tails?