Wizz Air will pay NIS 8,362 to a passenger kept off a flight because of overbooking, Jerusalem Small Claims Court Judge Aharon Orenstein ruled.
The passenger and his wife, who booked a flight from Budapest to Tel Aviv, were on-time for the flight and received a boarding pass. At the entry gate for the flight, the company's representatives notified the passenger that there was no room for him on the flight. He had to stay in Budapest for 24 hours until a flight the next day. The passenger's wife got on the plane.
The airline did not deny the facts. It explained that there was no room on the airplane, so the passenger was denied a seat. Wizz Air said that the flight had been over-booked, a familiar practice in civil aviation, in which more tickets are sold that the actual supply of seats, on the assumption that some passengers will not appear for the flight. This assumption, however, is not always correct, resulting in a situation in which the number of passengers with valid tickets is greater than the number of seats.
In most cases, the airlines offer monetary compensation to passengers agreeing to get off the flight (usually passengers flying alone). There are also often volunteers only too glad to stay in hotels at the airline's expense and accept hundreds of dollars in compensation for agreeing to get off the plane. In this case, however, not only did Wizz Air not bother to look for a passenger willing to give up his or her seat, but the passenger selected the airline did not volunteer. Furthermore, the passenger was separated from his wife traveling with him; she was allowed on the plane and he was taken off at the last minute. The company's excuse in this case was that it did not want to separate a family with children. When asked whether there were passengers flying alone on the flight, Wizz Air's representative said that he did not know what the composition of the passengers on the plane was. "This was an extremely astonishing answer. How is it possible that the respondent had no documentation of the composition of passengers on the flight?," Orenstein commented.
The passenger remained in Budapest without his personal effects, because these were packed together in a single suitcase together with those of his wife. As if that were not enough, Wizz Air was criticized for not offering him assistance in Budapest in food, overnight lodging, or travel to and from the airport for the delayed flight, for which the passenger had to pay an additional NIS 730. Wizz Air claimed that the passenger "disappeared," and it was therefore unable to provide assistance to him. The passenger completely denied this argument, saying that he had argued at length with the airline's representatives and had unsuccessfully tried to persuade them to fly him to Israel on an El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. (TASE: ELAL) taking off two hours later.
"This claim exposes the airline's unacceptable and dismissive treatment of the customer. The claimant ordered a ticket, paid for it with good money, arrived with his wife on time for the flight, and found himself separated from his wife on the verge of boarding the plane. He had to postpone his return to Israel by an entire day, while lacking all of his personal effects. The respondent did not even bother to take care of the claimant's plight," the judgment stated.
Orenstein calculated the compensation to be paid to the passenger as follows: NIS 2,050 under the Aviation Services Law (Compensation and Change of Conditions) (2012) for a flight delay of more than eight hours (depending on the distance covered by the flight). Orenstein added €140 (NIS 582) for the cost of the taxis and food consumed by the passenger. The claimant also paid NIS 730 for a flight on the next day, an amount that was not in dispute. The law also stipulates up to NIS 10,000 in exemplary compensation, which is designed to deter companies from violating the law and to encourage other consumers to exercise their rights. Exemplary damages of NIS 4,000 were granted in this case, plus NIS 1,000 in legal expenses. Total compensation for the passenger was NIS 8,362.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on February 10, 2019
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