A passenger who won more than £4,000 in compensation from Virgin Atlantic after being scalded by hot coffee during a flight from Montego Bay in Jamaica to London Heathrow in January 2022 has called on the airline to stop serving drinks in cups without a lid.
Stuart Harris, 55, from Cambridgeshire, was flying home after a holiday with his partner when he was burnt by hot coffee during the breakfast service towards the end of the nine and half hour flight.
Virgin Atlantic initially rejected Stuart’s claim under the Montreal Convention which places airlines under strict liability for most accidents resulting in injury onboard their flights. After expert medical evidence was presented, however, Virgin Atlantic agreed to settle the claim.
The Richard Branson-founded airline first offered a payout of just £2,370 before raising their offer to £4,375 to settle the case after a legal firm representing Harris pushed back.
Stuart said he was scalded when cabin crew were serving hot drinks during turbulence. “The seatbelt signs were on, so I was surprised that they were continuing to serve hot drinks,” Stuart commented.
“I asked for coffee and, as it was being placed on the tray in front of me there was some turbulence and the next thing it spilt all over the top of my legs and bottom of my torso,” Stuart continued.
“I could feel the scalding liquid travelling down around me and I was thinking it’ll cool down in a second, but it just went on. It was very, very unpleasant and painful.”
Cabin crew rushed to his aid and provided Stuart with a special burn dressing, although Stuart found it difficult to apply to his burns. After he got home, his skin started to blister, and it took 12 weeks for the wounds to heal, although some residual scarring is still visible.
Stuart didn’t realise he could pursue a claim against the airline until he read about a similar incident onboard a Ryanair flight in which a young girl was badly scalded by a spilt cup of tea.
Virgin Atlantic first rejected Stuart’s claim, arguing that nothing unusual or unexpected had happened on the flight – a prerequisite for a claim under the Montreal Convention.
“Hot drink spills on airplanes are not uncommon. They can be painful, and the consequences can ruin holidays, disrupt travel plans and, in some cases, affect people’s ability to return to work,” commented Anne Thomson, a solicitor which represented Stuart.
“This incident was clearly an accident for the purposes of the Montreal Convention and I was confident the claim would be successful.”
Following his payout, Stuart has called on Virgin Atlantic to stop serving hot drinks in cups without a lid.
“I recently flew with Ryanair, and the coffee cup not only had a secure lid on it, but a gauze was also covering the aperture where you drink from. It’s altogether much safer,” Stuart said.
A lid isn’t, however, without its own risk. The case that first alerted Stuart to the fact that he could be owed compensation involved an incident in which the Ryanair cabin crew accidentally failed to secure the lid properly.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.