A couple of friends were flying Lufthansa First Class to Denver Thursday afternoon and invited me to join them for a few hours in the First Class Terminal. I was flying to Brussels later in the evening, so I already had a same-day Lufthansa boarding pass.
According to LH’s Lounge Access and Variations page, I should have been allowed access to the lounge:
As a HON Circle Member and First Class passenger you may invite one companion into the lounge, as well as family members (spouse/partner, children under 18), provided that they are all flying with you. Please note that your companion must possess a valid boarding pass for a same-day Lufthansa/Star Alliance flight and must leave the lounge with you.
If you hold a Lufthansa Senator Card and have Star Alliance Gold status, you may invite one guest into the lounge per visit. Please note that your companion must be in possession of a valid boarding pass for a same-day Lufthansa/Star Alliance flight and must leave the lounge with you.
Or should I have been?
The arguably ambiguous wording in the rules above brought back memories of my jurisprudence class in law school and the common law canons of construction when dealing with statutory ambiguity.
Deciphering the paragraph above from a legal perspective, the first concept I recalled was Reddendo singula singulis (“refers only to the last”). That means, when a list of words has a modifying phrase at the end, the phrase refers only to the last, e.g., firemen, policemen, and doctors in a hospital.
Above, the rule states, “As a HON Circle Member and First Class passenger you may invite one companion into the lounge, as well as family members (spouse/partner, children under 18), provided that they are all flying with you.” I believe the modifying phrase “provided that they are all flying with you” only refers to family members, not to companions–especially after considering the next sentence in the rule.
A second canon of construction is Generalia specialibus non derogant (“the general does not detract from the specific”). Here, where there are general words that seem to contradict a more specific caveat, the more specific caveat prevails. The next sentence in the regulation states, “Please note that your companion must possess a valid boarding pass for a same-day Lufthansa/Star Alliance flight and must leave the lounge with you.” Why would this sentence need to be included if the companion was encompassed in the “provided that they are all flying with you” stipulation? It would be redundant.
Therefore, whatever Lufthansa’s intentions were, the current regulations only require 1.) that a companion be traveling on a same-day Star Alliance flight and 2.) leave the lounge with the first class passenger.
Let’s return to my story. After meeting up at the lounge, a lounge attendant took my passport and boarding pass. Upon examining it, however, she said I had to be on the same flight as my friends and that she could not permit me to access the lounge.
I know that Lufthansa is stingy about lounge access (having dealt with a similar issue and prevailed at the Lufthansa First Class Lounge in Munich earlier this year), so I had printed the entry guidelines referenced above and presented them to the agent.
Suddenly, she got snippy and said, “I work here sir and I know the rules of the lounge.” I smiled and showed her the appropriate rule, but she was not convinced, stating “rules are rules.” I agreed with her, responding, “And the rules available on Lufthansa’s website state that I should be allowed access to this lounge.”
She responded that this is not a lounge, but a terminal. I simply pointed to the same rule sheet which (as you can see below) had a “First Class Lounges” headline and included the Frankfurt First Class Terminal in the list. After explaining to me that the list referred only to lounges in Munich (I have no idea where she got that notion), she called in a supervisor.
Meanwhile, another agent came over and they began speaking to each other, unaware that I understood German. The gist of the conversation was that I did not understand the rules. The second agent tried to tell me the same thing, but I politely stated that the rules indicated otherwise. A supervisor arrived, listened to what I had to say, then affirmed that I would not be allowed into the lounge. Again, I referenced the rules and the “boss” was called out from the back.
The boss was a very nice woman who spoke English with hardly a trace of a German accent. After taking a look at the rules I presented, a horrified look spread across her face and she stated, “Sir, you are right. I can’t believe these are online. According to these rules, you should have access to this lounge.” Gratified, I expected her to grant me access, but she instead stated, “But this is incorrect. I cannot allow you into this lounge and will make sure the website is changed today. You must be traveling with the first class passengers to access the lounge, unless you are the family member of a HON. If you and your friends go back to Terminal A, they can take you into a First Class Lounge there, but not here. Only the CEO can make an exception.”
I wish I had Christoph Franz’s mobile number on me, but I was about ready to give up. I found it interesting that her understanding of the rules was completely opposite of what the website states. If one thing is clear on the website, it is that the family members of HON Circle members must be traveling with the HON Circle passenger.
Denied entry, I looked from right to left, then made a run for it, through security, around the corner, and right for the breakfast buffet before being tackled by two security screeners and being dragged away kicking and screaming.
Actually, that did not happen.
Instead, I saw that further arguing would do no good. As I stated earlier, the boss was very kind, albeit very firm. She offered me a drink of my choice (I ordered my favorite strawberry smoothie) and a limousine ride back to Terminal A. I could have fought further, but she claimed her boss was not in the office yet and I did not want to embarrass my friends any further, so I just gave in and accepted the smoothie and ride back.
Two days later, the website still has not been updated. Could it be that my interpretation of the rules was indeed correct?
I think the most interesting thing about my experience is that while Lufthansa may be known as the airline that does everything by the books, apparently they do not follow the printed rules when it does not suit them. I got the distinct sense that LH will bend rules for HON Circle members (rightfully so, I believe) just like United bends rules for 1K and Global Services passengers and that published rules merely serve as guidelines, not immutable law.
I have a couple first class trips this fall where I will have access to the First Class Terminal. Hopefully, I have not made a bad name for myself there. If anything, though, I will be looking for an apology next time I am there.