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Rs 5 lakh for glass in food

Lufthansa’s Flight LH 4413 took off from Amsterdam for Frankfurt. The passengers settled back for the four-hour journey. After a while, the food trolleys were wheeled in.

The fare came in pre-sealed packets. Rishi Bajoria and his companion — both Calcuttans — opened theirs for the vegetarian cuisine they had ordered. The food looked good. But a bite later, they found themselves chewing on — glass.

The West Bengal Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission has taken a very dim view of what transpired on the December 1997 flight from Amsterdam to Frankfurt.

Finding it “strange” that an international airline had no mechanism to check what was being served on board and “shuddering to think what would have happened, had the particles of glass been swallowed”, a two-bench state commission (comprising president Justice S.C. Datta and member Shilpi Majumdar) has asked Lufthansa to pay the two passengers a Rs 5-lakh compensation.

The amount awarded to Bajoria and his friend is one of the heftiest by the panel in recent times, besides being possibly the biggest the state has seen against an international airline like Lufthansa, say court officials.

The two Calcuttans had boarded the afternoon flight as part of an extensive tour of Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Switzerland on December 10, 1997. Their protests drew the attention of the air-hostess, the captain of the flight and the chief steward and everyone admitted that the food served was “totally unfit for consumption”, the complainants said.

The aircrew apologised but failed to offer them an alternative lunch, because there were no extra meal-trays, Bajoria’s lawyers complained. Besides the apologies, Lufthansa offered duty-free coupons worth Rs 1,250 and a 50 per cent discount on the fare if they undertook another journey by the airline, the complainants added. The offer was declined because of its “insubstantial nature”. Citing extreme mental agony and harassment, they asked that Lufthansa be made to cough up a compensation of Rs 20 lakh.

In its reply, Lufthansa’s legal team denied the presence of any glass particles in the food served on board Flight LH 4413. The meals were served sealed and the airline denied offering any compensation to the complainants.

The state commission, however, found the allegation true after going through the documents (including the 50 per cent discount offer) submitted to it.

“The anxiety, tension and mental suffering (of the complainants) can easily be imagined,” the bench observed, but felt Rs 5 lakh was compensation enough.

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