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Education And Debate

Pecked to death by (flying) ducks: court decision may extinguish smoking on aircraft

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 01 July 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:38
  1. Simon Chapman, associate professora
  1. aDepartment of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Sydney, Westmead Hospital, Westmead, NSW 2145, Australia
  • Accepted 19 June 1995

A case this month in the Australian court may force Australia's national airline, Qantas, to make all its flights non-smoking now rather than next year and in the meantime offers hope of compensation to Australian passengers who are refused non-smoking seats. Mrs Leone Cameron brought a case against Qantas for seating her in the smoking section of a Sydney to Bangkok flight after she had booked a non-smoking seat. She subsequently suffered minor illnesses. She and nine other similarly affected passengers claimed that Qantas had misled them. The judged ruled that Qantas had misled passengers in five of the cases though he refused to rule that Qantas had misled those placed in non-smoking seats next to the smoking area. He also refused to order Qantas to make all its flights non-smoking. The ruling is important for enabling other passengers to seek compensation through consumer claims tribunals when refused a requested non-smoking seat. It also brings closer the day when smoking will be forbidden on all flights.

There can be few non-smoking air travellers who fly frequently and have not had the experience of requesting a non-smoking seat at check in only to be seated in the smoking section because all the non-smoking seats have been allocated. And there are many more again who have found themselves sitting next to the smoking section, where the full force of the farcial “magic line” demarcation between smoking and non-smoking becomes apparent moments after the non-smoking sign is switched off. A decision of the Federal Court of Australia handed down in Sydney on 16 June 1995 seems likely to consign these experiences to the archives of travel history.

Mrs Cameron's complaint

Justice Bryan Beaumont ruled that Australia's national airline, Qantas, had been negligent and misled passengers by accepting reservations for non-smoking seats and then failing to seat …

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