In my last month’s blog, I mentioned a fun run/walk to raise money for our local cancer foundation. Well, it was a success with over 1,600 participants finishing with gusto under the rain.
My Greek holiday was almost perfect till I got to Luxembourg airport. The airline company concerned emailed me this message: “After having contacted our legal department, we would like to inform you that you do not have the right to mention one of our employees nor our departments nor our Airline in your blog.” I wanted to write about my experience to warn travellers of unforeseen misfortunes, alert them of their rights, and contribute to making our society fairer (not to tarnish this company’s reputation).
Can an experience or true statement be defamatory?
“If a statement is actually true, then it cannot be defamatory”, according to the EU-funded manual on defamation. Freedom of expression is an individual right which is connected to the individual’s freedom of conscience and opinion (Article 19 of the UDHR and the ICCPR, and Article 10 of the ECHR).“ The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has made this point repeatedly: Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of such [democratic] society, one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the development of every man. Subject to Article 10(2), it is applicable not only to “information” or “ideas” that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no democratic society”. (https://www.mediadefence.org/sites/default/files/resources/files/MLDI.IPI%20defamation%20manual.English.pdf. Produced by Dr Richard Carver, Oxford Brookes University, for a series of defamation law workshops for lawyers and journalists in Europe under the auspices of the Media Legal Defence Initiative and the International Press Institute, and funded by the European Commission and Open Society Foundations.)
On 4 September 2019, our flight arrived in Luxembourg more than 30 minutes late and without my check-in suitcase. We were supposed to land at 10:00 PM and be at home at 11:00 PM; however, by the time we had finished registering online the claim for our lost luggage, it was almost midnight. Since the last bus for home, i.e. Thionville – France, was at 11 PM, I rushed to the train station; unfortunately, the train had already left. I proceeded to a nearby hotel thinking of staying there for the night, but the price prevented me from doing this. I was prepared to stay at the airport hoping that I would get my luggage the following early morning. However, I was told by the airport staff that I couldn’t as it would close in 10 minutes (i.e. at midnight). To cut the story short, I took the taxi home as it was cheaper than staying in a hotel (35-30 km – average evening rate 145-150 euros).
The next day at 1:00 PM, I got a call saying that they found my suitcase. To my surprise, it was just slid in a quarter-opened door with only the arms of the person visible to me. There was no explanation nor apology; not even a face to say “hello”. I felt like a non-human being. As well, the suitcase – which was a birthday present from my sister in Australia last April (only 4 months before this incident) – had been damaged.
I contacted the airline’s Claims and Customer Relations Department, and they responded promptly but with un-sensitivity and lack of customer care. According to them, my suitcase, though damaged, can still be used; the flight delay was less than the minimum hours required for compensation; and the luggage was returned less than 24 hours.
I do not have relatives and friends to bother at 1 PM to pick me up 30 km away. When I travel, I have a budget and bring just enough (including a pre-paid credit card) to avoid unnecessary spending. I was lucky to have 150 euros leftover that evening. Imagine if I didn’t? Hitchhike? Sleep outside the airport’s ground, on the bench somewhere, or …? Murphy’s Law – something could have gone wrong.
ActionAid’s survey on street harassment found that 75% of women in London, UK have been subjected to harassment or violence in public. A French study found that 100% of more than 600 women surveyed across the country had faced sexual harassment on the transit system. (http://www.stopstreetharassment.org/resources/statistics/statistics-academic-studies/). Though violent crime is rare in Luxembourg, it does exist. It doesn’t have to be a violent one to have a lasting devastating effects on individuals and their families. Murphy’s law – if something had gone wrong that evening, who would have been responsible?
I received a negative response from the airline company though the European Court of Justice (CJEU) has established the concept of ’damage’ as both material and non-material (e.g. emotional). (https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/ecc-net_air_passenger_rights_report_2015.pdf). Regulation (EC) 261/2004 applies in cases where a flight is cancelled or delayed and the Montreal Convention establishes that it is the airline’s responsibility when a consumer suffers economic loss or damage due to a flight delay or damaged luggage.
I’ll keep you posted…