February 6, 2009

Do the Hudson River Crash Survivors Deserve Compensation?

I was very disappointed to hear of this story. Apparently some of the survivors of the US Airways Flight 1549 feel that US Airways are giving them the shaft, at least as far as the airline's treatment of them goes.

The passengers claim that the higher ups at the airline are too busy congratulating themselves over the miraculous landing and zero loss of human life to care much about what the passengers suffered. The airline has offered the passengers free upgrades, when available, to first class on domestic flights for one year, along with one upgrade to Europe or Hawaii and priority check-in. But the passengers believe the airline is being stingy by giving them a one year expiration date and not making the upgrades a lifetime perk.

The airline also (quickly) mailed each passenger a $5,000 check to cover belongings that were lost when the plane went down in the Hudson River, which is very generous considering that most people probably don't have $5,000 worth of goods or merchandise in their luggage or carry-ons.

However, this hasn't stopped some of the passengers from contacting attorneys to discuss their right to sue the airline.

This is what disappoints me.

Shouldn't these people be grateful they are alive? Shouldn't they be grateful to pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger that he kept his cool and managed to make a water landing with a commercial airliner with no casualties?

Legally speaking, I don't believe they have much of a case against US Airways. They would need to prove negligence on the airline's part, forcing the water landing. As the Canadian geese who allegedly flew into the plane's flight path and caused the engine failure did not provide their schedule to US Airways, I don't see how the airline could be held responsible for what essentially is an act of nature. To me, this would be akin to suing the county that maintains the freeway you were driving on when you ran over that nail that caused a puncture in your tire and created a blowout.

I'm not saying that I don't sympathize with the passengers. I can only imagine how traumatic a crash landing in an airplane would be and I doubt many of them will be hurrying back to the airport anytime soon. Perhaps US Airways was a bit insensitive in their letter to the passengers stating "We would very much like to see you on a future US Airways flight soon". However, several passengers were interviewed by local media in Charlotte and stated that the airline was bending over backwards to accommodate them, offering to pay any medical and/or psychological treatment that necessitated out of the crash.

How much are we going to expect from US Airways, or any airline? It sounds to me as if they have done everything they could, and should, do. Not every passenger, but certainly a few of them, seem determined to make money off this event. And that's sad.

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