Court Rules For Airline In Frequent Flyer Dispute

April 2, 2014

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The US Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that an airline customer cannot sue after being thrown out of a frequent flyer plan.

On a 9-0 vote, the court said Rabbi Binyomin Ginsberg cannot pursue his claims against Northwest Airlines, which ceased operations in 2010 after merging with Delta Air Lines. He claimed breach of contract under Minnesota state law.

The court held the federal Airline Deregulation Act barred Ginsberg's lawsuit. The act says states have no say in regulating the price, route or service of an air carrier.

Ginsberg, an educator from Minnesota who travels widely and leads tours as part of his work, sued in 2009, saying he and his wife were thrown out of the programme a year earlier for making too many service complaints.

He said the airline told him it took action in part because he allegedly sought compensation after booking reservations on full flights, knowing he would be bumped to another flight.

Ginsberg said his complaints involved only a small proportion of the flights he took on Northwest and were limited to such issues as long waits for luggage and not being notified about flight cancellations. Northwest said he made 24 complaints and that the contract allowed it to terminate membership for abuse of the programme at its sole discretion.

A federal judge in California dismissed Ginsberg's lawsuit, which he filed as a possible class action on behalf of others who might have been treated the same way. The judge said Ginsberg's claims were barred by federal aviation law.

The San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the judge, reviving the lawsuit in a July 2012 ruling on the basis that Ginsberg's contractual claim was unrelated to the price, route or service.

Business groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce, and the administration of President Barack Obama sided with the airline in the case.