Last week, Isaac Kopfler, a resident of Sao Paulo received $1,400 in damages by a Brazilian court. Four years ago, Mr. Kopfler boarded a Lufthansa flight from Zurich to Sao Paulo. Through a technical error, the airline had failed to provide the kosher meal that Mr. Kopfler had requested. Mr. Kopfler sued and was awarded the above mentioned sum.
From my point of view, it is a sorry story. As one who has been on any number of flights offering meal service, I have never viewed kosher meals or any special meal for that matter as a “G-d given right”; I have always viewed such meal as an accommodation on the part of the airline, where the airline is prepared to go that extra mile for the passenger.
On more than one occasion, I have, out of necessity, boarded a flight where I made reservations at the last minute. On those flights, there were no expectations on my part whatsoever for a kosher meal, in that I was unable to provide the airline with the 24 hour notice it requires. More than once, a miracle happened and a kosher meal suddenly appeared. On each of those occasions, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Apparently, Mr. Kopfler shares neither my view nor my attitude when it comes to special meals on an airline.
Would Mr. Kopfler have been as indignant and sued the airline, had the airline erred and put his luggage on a flight bound for Los Angeles, so that in all likelihood, at least two days would have passed until the luggage finally reached him? While some will disagree, I can’t help but feel that doing without clean and in all probability necessary garments for a 48 hour period, is far more disconcerting than not eating (please understand that in all likelihood pretzels, fruit and similar snacks would most likely have been available during the flight, not to mention beverages). Did you know that in the United States 1 out of every 150 passengers has their checked luggage misdirected or left behind each year? It would be interesting to find out what percentage of these passengers sue, when their luggage does not come up on the luggage carousel after a flight.
Strange as it may sound, there are any number of kosher airline meals that are inedible. Tastes are culturally dictated. Not every kosher meal is prepared by American companies such as Schreibers or Wiltons. Order a kosher meal on a flight departing from a European city such as
Amsterdam, Budapest or Milan and you might very well be staring at a cardboard box containing cans and packages that in the opinion of some could just as easily have been labeled Alpo or Puppy Chow. More than once, have I had to make do with crackers and coke after having been served a kosher meal prepared by a European caterer. Would any passenger sue the airline when as far as the passenger was concerned, the kosher meal provided was simply inedible? For that matter, there have been occasions too numerous to mention where I have spent hours at an airport because of a delayed or cancelled flight. As an observant Jew does that give me a right to sue the airline or perhaps even the airport because I went hours (read from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m.) without a kosher meal?
Every passenger has a right to receive what he paid for. No more, no less. Unless I’m mistaken, I’m not aware of airlines paying the same amount for a kosher meal, that they pay the 200 plus regular meals that they serve passengers on a wide body jet flying an international route. Nor am I aware of an airline adding a surcharge (which airlines are currently so adept at doing for just about everything else) for a kosher or otherwise special meal. To be saddled with a lawsuit after an airline mistakenly fails to go out of its way to accommodate a special diet passenger, just isn’t kosher. Errors happen when it comes to airline passengers. Plenty of them! Moreover, Lufthansa was willing to compensate Mr. Kopfler through air miles. Instead, Mr. Kopfler chose to take the attitude of: I don’t get to eat kosher; Lufthansa will get to eat crow.
Speaking of Lufthansa, several years ago, one of their flight attendants made a point of asking me how I rated the kosher meal I had been served on a flight from Frankfurt to New York, in that Lufthansa had recently changed kosher caterers. “Zehr gut”, I replied in German.
As one who takes the time to write letters of praise and gratitude to airlines, I urge you to do the same, especially with regard to having provided you with a kosher meal. Let the airlines know that both the meal as well as their efforts was greatly appreciated. Equally as important let them know that just as there are kosher meals, so too is there a kosher response.