AirTalk for December 3, 2013

The ultimate consumer provocateur gets his day in the Supreme Court

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Today the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in Northwest Airlines vs. Ginsburg

Can an airline boot you from its frequent flyer program for complaining too much? What sort of rights do frequent flyers have when it comes to disputes about club membership? These questions are before the Supreme Court today, as it hears the case of a Minnesota Rabbi who sued Northwest Airlines for terminating his frequent flyer status and confiscating his miles.

Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg was a frequent Northwest passenger with top Platinum Elite Status and 75 flights per year. According to Northwest, in just 8 months, Ginsberg registered 24 complaints—concerning things like late luggage and long delays on the tarmac. At first, Northwest offered the disgruntled customer travel vouchers and bonus miles, but then they removed him from the program, claiming he’d abused his frequent flyer status. Ginsberg is suing the airline for $5 million, saying his removal was a breach of good faith.

Northwest, which has become part of Delta Airlines, argues that it did not violate its contract and that Ginsberg’s case is invalid under the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act, which prohibits any lawsuits regarding the “price, route, or service of an air carrier.”

Now the Court will address the validity of Ginsberg’s suit and the contractual responsibilities of the airline when it comes to miles programs.

Have you ever been penalized for complaining? What justifies an airline dropping a frequent flyer? What rights should frequent flyers have?

Guests:

Lisa McElroy, Associate Professor of Law, Earle Mack School of Law, Drexel University; Visiting Associate Professor , University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law

Jamie Court, President, Consumer Watchdog; Author of "Corporateering: How Corporations Steal Your Personal Freedom… And What You Can Do About It"


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