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German Court Decides Airlines Not Responsible for Cocktail Reimbursements During Flight Delays

German court rules airlines not liable to refund airport bar tabs during delays, denying couple's lawsuit over two Aperol Spritzes.

by Lauren Smith

April 18, 2023

Photo: Airport Bar. Courtesy of Alexey Shikov / Unsplash

A couple has lost a lawsuit requesting a European airline refund them for two Aperol Spritzes consumed during an unexpected delay, with the German court ruling that carriers don’t have to reimburse inconvenienced travelers for their airport bar tabs.

The anonymous plaintiffs had booked a roundtrip from Hanover (HAJ) to Miami, Florida (MIA) and had already experienced a three-hour delay on the outbound leg.

On the way home, they had even worse luck. A flight cancellation scrambled their itinerary and forced them to fly via Madrid (MAD) and London Heathrow (LHR) and land instead in Hamburg (HAM), a train journey from Hanover. They ultimately arrived in their origin city four and a half hours later than expected.

Once home, the couple submitted a claim to the unnamed airline, requesting compensation for the cost of the food and drink they consumed during the layovers, totaling €20.80 ($22.70) in Madrid and €88 ($96.02) in London.

Photo: Aperol Spritz. Dennis Schmidt / Unsplash

The European Union has some of the strictest consumer protection rules for air travelers. For example, under the bloc’s Air Passenger Rights Ordinance, in the event of flight delays (of at least two hours from the original departure) and cancellations, airlines must cover “meals and refreshments in reasonable proportion to the waiting time.”

Airlines handle this requirement differently: some issue vouchers that can be used at airport concessions, while others allow travelers to submit receipts from their airport spending and reimburse them for reasonable expenses.

That was the policy of the unnamed airline in this case. But while the carrier compensated the travelers for the delays and reimbursed most of their airport spending, it refused to pay out €17.67 ($19.28) for two Aperol Spritzes they consumed at Heathrow.

Photo: London Heathrow Airport. Courtesy of David Parry / PA Wire

Annoyed, the couple recently filed a lawsuit against the airline before Hanover’s district court. The judge ultimately decided the airline was within its rights to refuse to cover alcoholic beverages during rights, a ruling that hinged on the definition of “refreshment.”

According to the judge, alcoholic drinks like cocktails can’t be considered “refreshments” because rather than hydrating travelers, they can dehydrate them. Airlines, therefore, shouldn’t have to foot the bill for layover tipples.

“In the opinion of the court seised, the wording ‘refreshment’ prohibits subsuming alcoholic beverages, the effect of which should usually be the opposite,” the translated judgment reads.

Interestingly, the court suggested that craft beer might be considered a refreshment because it could be non-alcoholic.

The ruling won’t definitively determine how future claims are settled by airlines but does indicate which expenses are reimbursable and which aren’t.

So, you might want to consider your pocketbook before you crack open the airport bar Champagne when your flight is delayed out of Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG).