High Court Grounds Plaintiff's Frequent Flier Lawsuit

Man's Frequent Flier Miles Revoked After Too Many Complaints

By MARK SHERMAN

WASHINGTON -- Supreme Court justices unanimously ruled Wednesday against a Minnesota rabbi whose frequent complaints about an airline got him tossed out of its frequent flier program.

The court dismissed a lawsuit from Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg over Northwest Airlines' decision to strip him of his top-level frequent flier status and then end his membership.

Northwest, since absorbed by Delta Air Lines (DAL), said it cut off Ginsberg because he complained too much. The rabbi said Northwest didn't act in good faith, and was trying to cut costs because of its merger with Delta.

The court said in an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito that the federal deregulation of the airline industry in 1978 prohibits most lawsuits like the one filed by Ginsberg.

The frequent flier program is clearly connected to the airline's prices, routes or services, which are covered under the Airline Deregulation Act, Alito said.

Ginsberg and his wife flew almost exclusively on Northwest, logging roughly 75 flights a year to travel across the U.S. and abroad to give lectures and take part in conferences on education and administration.

He said he flew on Northwest even when other airlines offered comparable or better flights and in 2005, reached the highest level of the WorldPerks program.

Northwest cut him off in 2008, shortly after Northwest and Delta agreed to merge. Ginsberg said Northwest was looking to get rid of the high-mileage customers.

Northwest says Ginsberg complained 24 times in a seven-month period, including nine instances of luggage that turned up late on airport baggage carousels.
Northwest said that before it took action, it awarded Ginsberg $1,925 in travel credit vouchers, 78,500 bonus miles, a voucher for his son and $491 in cash reimbursements.

The airline pointed to a provision of the mileage program's terms that gives Northwest the right to cancel members' accounts for abuse.

Alito said the court ruling doesn't leave airline customers without recourse. The Transportation Department has authority to punish unfair and deceptive practices in air transport and can investigate complaints about frequent flier programs. Customers also have the option of enrolling in a rival airline's program, he said.

In a statement, Delta said it was pleased with the decision and would continue "to provide customers with a loyalty program that offers valuable benefits and rewards our members' travel."

Ginsberg's attorney, Adina Rosenbaum of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said she was disappointed.

"We think it's one that harms consumers by giving airlines greater freedom to act in bad faith in performing their contracts with consumers," she said.

A federal trial judge cited earlier Supreme Court cases involving claims against frequent flier programs in dismissing Ginsberg's lawsuit, including his claim that Northwest didn't live up to the terms of the contract. The judge said the contract gives the airlines the right to kick someone out of the mileage program at its "sole judgment."

But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said part of the suit could go forward involving whether Ginsberg and others can sue under state laws that require parties to a contract to act in good faith.

The case is Northwest vs. Ginsberg, 12-462.

-Associated Press writer Sam Hananel contributed to this report.


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165 Comments

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robantm

I quit flying Delta 20 years ago. They sucked then.

April 04 2014 at 6:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Pastor Ric

This article teaches us 2 very important lessons:
#1) freedom of speech isn't free if you're talking about a major corporation, and
#2) the Republicans want to deregulate most high level industries so that the Supreme Court have no choice but to dismiss cases against major corporations when they violate your first Amendment rights.

How many more of our liberties are going to be lost to the highest bidder before America wakes up and realizes the Bible is right, "the love of money is the root of all evil" and its the very means by which we, as a nation, will fall.

April 04 2014 at 9:06 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Carl

Oy Vey!...He gives our Tribe a bad name, and perpetuates the stereotype of the typical loudmouth Jew that we try so hard to distance ourselves from it

April 04 2014 at 8:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
traysteph23

He obviously is not happy with them, so he needs to find another airline. I am glad they dropped the lawsuit. There are too many lawsuits in the country, over such stupid things. Everyone is always looking for their meal ticket.

April 04 2014 at 6:37 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to traysteph23's comment
robantm

It just wasn't your meal ticket.

April 04 2014 at 6:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
poker25005

I am glad that the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the Rabbi.
Anyone rude and obnoxious enough to complain 24 times within a 7 month
period and then accept all the compensation from the airline should be kicked
out of the frequent flyer program and perhaps even banned from ever flying
again on that airline. The Rabbi got exactly what he deserved.

April 04 2014 at 5:17 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
HI BRANDON

Sounds like he needs to revisit his religion

April 04 2014 at 4:37 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
John

He'll go to another airline now and complain about them. Sounds like a professional whiner.

April 04 2014 at 4:15 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
justgigging

Frequent Whinner Miles ?

April 04 2014 at 4:04 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
rkisak

Dont say "Jew" you will be on the list of anti-semitics with Mel Gibson.

April 04 2014 at 3:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Master Mike

No Karambee, they made a consitutional freedom ruling. Business have the right to freedoms too. The Supreme Court is filled with pro people decisions. Each case has to be decided in light of the consitution. The Courts job is to decide THAT, not what should be, or is more fair or more deisrable. Some people think that stores MUJST cater to frequent shoplifters Business have a RIGHT not to be victimized too. It's not theft if you "own" it conditionally. Street lawyers abound!

April 04 2014 at 2:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Master Mike's comment
robantm

"The Supreme Court is filled with pro people decisions." Just not THIS one.

April 04 2014 at 6:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply