Is This the Dumbest Lawsuit Against an Airline – Ever?

I used to think the dumbest lawsuit ever against an airline was the woman who sued Singapore because they offer footrests in economy and a flight attendant spilled a drink on her husband (plus, the Zapruder film).

Then I learned about the passenger suing Qantas for $75 because their inflight entertainment system didn’t work on a flight to Hong Kong (he was “he was forced to endure a 10-hour journey with a broken in-flight entertainment system”).

He figures that:

  • It’s a 10 hour flight (actually blocked at 9 hours 20 minutes to 9 hours 40 minutes gate to gate depending on flight)

  • In that time “he could have watched five films”

  • The retail value of those films is ~ $15 each

  • So he was deprived of $75

Qantas had offered 3000 miles as compensation. Granted Qantas miles aren’t worth very much (though their short haul award chart is similar in many ways to the British Airways chart, even East Coast to Europe in business class isn’t priced terribly, and US customers can transfer Citi points to Qantas to top off an account).

But remember that this plaintiff is deciding that the difference between US$75 and 3000 miles is worth suing over (not even whether $75 is worth it, which it ain’t).

He filed in the Victoria Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Did I mention that the current filing fee to resolve goods and services disputes in this court which are valued at less than AU$3000 is ~ US$45? And that doesn’t count fees for things like issuing a summons?

The Victoria Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruled that it lacks jurisdiction over an international flight.

Leaving aside whether or not it ever makes sense to sue over such a thing, given the subject matter or value of the claim, the flight had already been delayed an hour as a result of inflight entertainment issues. Further delaying the flight would have been more costly — to the airline and to the rest of the passengers. Considering the tradeoffs Qantas was right to fly without this passenger’s inflight entertainment working correctly.

It’s reasonable to wish of course that the airline knew about the problem in advance and let the customer know so they could plan ahead with their own shows or movies. But a lawsuit still seems misplaced here.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I don’t understand this post at all. These are dumb lawsuits why?

    I know in the United States it is simply understood that airlines operate completely unaccountable to their customers, so much so that the US government has rendered them immune from suit in US courts for anything related to their fares or services. As a result, US airlines correctly feel that they can get away with almost anything — and often take advantage of this bizarre privilege that seems more consistent with Soviet Russia than a supposedly capitalist country.

    The rest of the world fortunately still thinks airlines should be held accountable for their errors and omissions like any other business, and I don’t see why that shouldn’t be. Why should airlines be able to pass their expenses, and damages they cost, to unsuspecting consumers? If I am sold a 10 hour flight with inflight entertainment, why should they not be accountable for failing to deliver the product they sold me, and why would they make sure these things are working properly if it costs them nothing to let it go unfixed? $75 sounds like a fairly generous estimate of the price that objective people would put on inflight entertainment on a 10 hour flight, and I fault the airline for failing to make up their shortcoming to the passenger such that they feel compelled to file suit.

    The SQ suit is not actually about footrests, but rather the fact that the stewardess spilled a drink on them and they were injured by the footrest in reaction. I have no idea what this person’s injuries are, but why should they suffer for SQ’s negligence — if they were negligent — without compensation? It doesn’t say whether the suit was filed in Singapore or Australia, but either way the loser will pay for the winning parties legal fees, so there is a pretty good chance that they have a good faith basis for filing it.

  2. Ditto. Airlines get away with murder in their inconsistent delivery on their marketed promises. In Flight Entertainment on a long haul flight is important. Either you have it or you do not. If you promise it, it is part of the commercial offer for a passenger when he or she is making a determination on what carrier or flight to fly and how much to pay. While a lawsuit is an unfortunate way to accomplish compensation, the Qantas offer of 3,000 miles is inadequate. I believe a monetary discount would have been preferable and more equitable, but I am sure that Qantas did not want to have the financial liability for the other passengers that were on the flight. AIrlines must be held accountable for their delivery on their promises. I respect your work on this blog. Because of this I am a bit surprised and disturbed by your lack of concern for this issue. It is not a dumb lawsuit. It is a dumb airline that does not properly service its customers and care for them when they do not deliver on the airline’s promises.

  3. While I won’t bother commenting on this lawsuit, I will say that jetBlue automatically gives customers a monetary credit (I forget how much) if the IFE doesn’t work on your flight. I’ve gotten it multiple times in the past.

    I will also mention that I received a $75 credit from jetBlue for a 2 hour delayed JFK-LAX flight (without asking).

    In both instances, they were not obligated to do so, but as a pax it was *greatly* appreciated, and it certainly makes me loyal to B6 especially when the price may be slightly higher for a particular flight than a competitor. It’s just a nice way of doing business and shows they actually care about the customer.

  4. If he wants to pay the appropriate filing fees more power to him. I’m not familiar with the Aussie legal system, but if Qantas did in fact respond to this lawsuit it arguably cost them more than $75 to respond. Airlines are for the most part unaccountable for their set of “promises”. While irrops happen, Qantas and other airlines make promises – these have a monetary value to a customer. Why is it OK that airlines can and always do enforce promises that customers make but refuse to hold themselves to the same standard? If Qantas failed to take him seriously before filing the lawsuit, I applaud him. If enough people did this (this is an extreme) maybe companies would resolve disputes before one party feels the need to sue another.

  5. LOL – My IFE did not work on a 5-hour Qantas domestic flight (PER-SYD) but it never occurred to me to file a lawsuit. That being said, the preference would be to credit the miles to One World partners AA or BA…
    It seems to me if someone is foolish enough to pay $40 to bring a $75 claim they are entitled to their day in small claims court.

  6. I hate to see any judicial system burdened by trivial lawsuits, but is the fault with the man who is suing for $75, or is the fault with Qantas for refusing his very reasonable request for compensation? Who is really the bad guy here?

  7. Couldn’t he have moved to another seat where the IFE was working?

    Or was it inoperable for the whole plane?

    In which case, did anyone else sue?

    I agree, this is one of the lamest lawsuits ever. And I’m someone who always watches the map on long flights.

  8. 3000 miles might mean nothing to this man…. you seem to forget that most people who fly do not collect miles! So it is likely they have actually offered him nothing in his eyes.

  9. Of course any lawsuit for peanuts is just a frustration exercise throughout, but it gives some degree of relief I am sure.

    For contrast, two months ago on a ~five hour flight in Canada on Air Canada my wife’s IFE was inoperable at her business class seat. The airline, without the slightest nudge from us, proactively gave a $300 cash voucher good for a year on any future AC purchase…worth exactly $300 to us as we will assuredly make us of it as if it were cash. And I *never* use mine , so it is not like we cared one way or the other that one of the two was not functioning.

  10. @Drav

    For that matter, 3000 miles in a program I don’t use really are meaningless. If I’m flying QF on a revenue ticket, I’m crediting to either AA or BA. QF miles have no value to me.

  11. Don’t see how this is a dumb lawsuit. The guy may be dumb for wasting more money than he will get but he has a valid case. He bought a product and the product was not delivered as promised. If i sell u a drivable car but when the car is delivered there are no windshields should u suck it up? No right. If anyone is dumb it’s the writer.of this post. Yeah let the airlines bend u over then take the pennies they offer u, that’s great advise.

  12. @Raul that’s not even close to the same thing. A windshield on a car is an essential safety feature, the IFE is assuredly not.

    Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

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