AA Legal Documents
Law guide

In-flight services

Contents

In-flight services

It can be disappointing when you do not receive the level of service you expect from an airline, and frustrating when you try to get redress, but the reality is that there are no regulations setting out what airlines must provide in terms of in-flight service, nor is in-flight service included in the airlines' contracts with their passengers. Airlines therefore generally take the line that they cannot be held accountable should one (or more) of the usual elements of their service not be available or up to scratch.

Meals and refreshments

Airlines are not legally required to provide meals or refreshments. Nevertheless, apart from the new breed of no-frills airlines, most airlines do provide refreshments of some description. If, however, refreshments are not available for some reason, or if the drinks trolley passes you by whilst you are asleep, you should not expect much more than an apology should you subsequently complain to the airline.

A common complaint is that a passenger's preferred choice of meal is no longer available by the time the trolley reaches them. This can be a nuisance if you do not like the meal you are offered, but there is no regulation or legislation under which an airline must ensure that all passengers receive the meal of their choice.

If you have requested a special meal for dietary or religious reasons, it is more than merely frustrating if you get the wrong meal or if the meal is not provided. Unfortunately, however, in the same way that airlines are not required to provide any meals at all, there are no regulations against which they can be held to account for failing to provide a special meal. Passengers who have serious medical conditions for which they must have specific foods or eat at specific times, should always carry the necessary foodstuffs with them.

In-flight entertainment

Airlines do not have to provide in-flight entertainment, so if there is none available on your flight, or if the entertainment is not what you were expecting, you should not expect a particularly sympathetic response should you complain. Of course, many airlines use the lure of the most up-to-date entertainment to sell tickets; if pressed, they might offer a modest ''goodwill gesture'' should the promised entertainment not be available, but you have to ask, and the sum would certainly not buy another flight.

Seating

The only regulations on seating relate to spacing needed to ensure that passengers can evacuate quickly in an emergency. The UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is the only regulatory authority to have made such regulations and they apply only to UK airlines see the CAA's website for further information.

Airline seats do not have to recline, nor are there any set comfort standards. The only standards applicable are related to the safe carriage of humans and are these do not extend to the comfort of the seats. Many airlines offer the facility to request a particular seat or seat position (e.g. window seat), but they will not guarantee to honour the request. Indeed, airlines occasionally drop this facility because it causes more trouble than they think it is worth when passengers do not get the seat they thought they had ''booked''.

Some tour operators invite passengers to pay a fee to ensure that all members of a party sit together on a flight. However, even this is not a guarantee; the AUC has received complaints where families have simply been handed their money back at check-in and seated in different parts of the aircraft.

The CAA recommends that UK airlines should ensure that every child is seated beside a responsible adult, but this does not mean that they must seat whole families together.

Pets in the aircraft cabin

Some passengers want to be able to take their pets with them in the aircraft cabin. Other passengers do not want to sit anywhere near other passengers' pets. It is entirely up to individual airlines whether they permit pets to travel in the cabin with their owners, or whether they insist that pets travel in the hold.

Toilets

Surprising though it may seem, airlines are not required by law to provide toilets. Thankfully, most of them seem to think that it is a good idea to do so, except perhaps on very small aircraft on very short routes. If one or more of the toilets on board are out of order, there are no regulations under which an airline must compensate passengers for the inconvenience.

Cabin crew behaviour

Cabin crew are present first and foremost for safety reasons. If they are inattentive, unfriendly or even rude, an airline might investigate a particular incident, but would be unlikely to offer much in the way of recompense to an offended passenger. There are no regulations against which airlines can be held accountable if their cabin crew are rude or provide a substandard level of service to their passengers.

Disruptive passengers

If an airline has accused you of being disruptive and taken a sanction against you - such as refusing to carry you - you will find it very difficult to gain compensation. You might even find yourself in court.

If you have been the innocent victim of the bad behaviour of a fellow passenger, most airlines would only consider making a compensatory gesture if it could be established that the cabin crew had failed to make any effort to help you at the time. Unfortunately, they may not always be able to do so if, for example, the flight is full and they cannot offer you a different seat away from the disruptive passenger.