The Supreme Court today ruled on Northwest, Inc. v. Ginsberg, No. 12-462, denying a frequent flyer’s right to sue Delta for unfairly expelling him from the loyalty program of Northwest Airlines, which later merged with Delta.
The suit was brought by Rabbi Binyomin Ginsberg, who qualified for top-tier elite status in Northwest’s WorldPerks program in 2005. But in 2008, Northwest cancelled his WorldPerks membership and withdrew the miles in his account. As justification for the action, Northwest claimed that Ginsberg had abused the airline’s compensation system, logging 24 complaints regarding late baggage arrivals and the like in just eight months.
Ginsberg sued, claiming breach of contract, but a federal judge dismissed the suit, arguing that his claim was preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act (ADA) of 1978. But that ruling was later reversed by a federal appeals court, which held that the ADA was not intended to “immunize the airline industry from liability for common law contract claims.”
That was the focus of the arguments before the Supreme Court: “the extent to which the ADA preempts a claim that involves an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.”
In ruling that that the ADA does indeed preempt claims such as Ginsberg’s, the Supreme Court has likely stanched a flood of complaints from frustrated frequent flyers and reinforced the power differential between airlines and their customers.
The Court’s opinion is here.
Reader Reality Check
Do you ever feel that airline passengers can’t catch a break?
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.
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