Airline Refuses to Compensate Jewish Family Denied Kosher Meals on 15-Hour Flight

May 13, 2017

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US airlines have received a ton of criticism regarding terrible customer service in the last few months, and much of it well deserved. But foreign airlines aren’t perfect either, as evidenced in this story shared with us by TPG reader Motty, whose story starts all the way back in July 2016.

Motty, his wife and two young children were booked on South African Airways (SAA) Flight 203 from Johannesburg (JNB) to New York (JFK), a grueling, nonstop, 15 hour and 40 minute flight. However, the family was traveling in business class, which costs a premium in either miles or cash but can be well worth it for an ultra-long distance journey.

The family observes a Kosher diet, so Motty informed SAA well ahead of time that he and his kin would require Kosher meals, and he reconfirmed two days beforehand that the request had been properly added to the reservation. In fact, there was no question that the airline properly received the request, because as the flight got underway and the aircraft was taxiing to the runway, a steward approached the family with paperwork to ask if they had ordered Kosher food, which they re-reconfirmed.

It was only at that moment, with more than 15 hours to go and no way to disembark, that the family was informed that although Kosher food had been listed for them on the manifest, there was no Kosher food on the plane.

This is bad enough for two adults, but the family’s two children are quite young; they have a 3 year old and an 18 month old. The flight crew apologized for the issue, and were able to provide bananas, apples and pears, but this is far from a complete meal, let alone two meals as would be expected on such a long flight. The journey had no other complications, but it was far from satisfying.

Afterwards, Motty wrote to South African Airways explaining the situation and inquiring about compensation for the lack of mid-flight sustenance. After multiple follow up emails, the airline finally responded (nine months later) with essentially a cut-and-pasted answer:

Thank you for your email and please pardon our delayed response.

The goodwill of our customers is very important to us, and we treat any report of customer dissatisfaction very seriously. South African Airways makes every effort to provide the highest possible standard of service in all areas of our operation, and we regret that we did not meet your expectations on this occasion as no kosher food was available to you and your family.  We monitor performance throughout our company, and your comments will be very helpful.

Needless to say, this is not what most folks would call an acceptable response, so Motty replied to the airline asking them to review the situation again, requesting compensation of some sort — not even a specific amount, just in recognition of the error — and some sort of assurance that changes would be made to be sure this sort of incident wouldn’t happen again.

The airline responded with another generic response:

South African Airways’ business is service, along with the welfare and comfort of our customers.  Consequently, we share your disappointment about the problems you encountered.  Your travel experience indicates that we failed to provide the quality service for which we have always been known.

Again, I would like to emphasize that we are extremely sorry for the situation that you experienced, and that our position on the matter has had such an impact.  We apologize in the sincerest manner possible with assurances of internal follow-up in the areas of service which you identified.  We clearly recognize that we cannot become complacent, and we are actively and aggressively seeking ways to improve all areas of our operation.

After yet another round of emails in which the airline made zero effort to address the question of compensation, an airline representative finally dropped the news that the family would be getting nothing:

The goodwill of our customers is very important to us, and we treat any report of customer dissatisfaction very seriously.  I have revisited your entire file in order to be sure that our initial consideration was complete.  I would like to apologize once again for the inconveniences you experienced.  After further discussion with our executive management, we have found nothing to cause us to alter our decision.  Therefore, we must continue to decline your request for compensation.

It’s odd that South African Airways feels no need to offer any sort of compensation whatsoever in this situation after having admitted that it screwed up the meals — and these are business class passengers.

While The Points Guy isn’t a consumer advocacy site, in this case we have reached out to South African Airways for comment on the situation and why the airline and its executive management believe there is no need to compensate this family despite the fact that the company acknowledged they “failed to provide the quality service.” We will update this post if and when we hear back from the carrier.

Featured image courtesy of Getty Images.

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