Passengers “Bumped” Off of Commercial Flight for College Basketball Team; Update on Frequent Flier Lawsuit Review by Supreme Court

A regional jet aircraft operated by Delta Connection sits at a gate at Memphis International Airport on the morning of Sunday, November 4, 2012. Photograph by FlyerTalk member ChiefNWA. Click on the photograph for a trip report written by ChiefNWA.

You may have been “bumped” from a flight due to an oversold situation where there are more passengers than seats on an airplane — but how would you feel if you were one of the passengers of Delta Air Lines flight 5059 wanting to leave Gainesville Regional Airport in Florida this past Sunday afternoon during one of the busiest travel weekends of the year to be on your way to Atlanta where all of the passengers were “bumped” off of the flight so that the regional jet may be used to accommodate the men’s basketball team of the University of Florida?
The aircraft originally designated for use as a charter flight by the team — to transport its members to Connecticut in order for its players to play their scheduled game against the University of Connecticut — suffered from a mechanical delay and needed to be repaired. As a result, a commercial flight on a regional jet operated by Express Jet as Delta Air Lines flight 5059 was canceled; and the passengers were given vouchers and were accommodated on other flights out of Gainesville Regional Airport.
Some of those other flights were not until the next day.
Passengers were reportedly upset when some of them saw members of the basketball team boarding the aircraft meant for their flight. Some had to be driven to other airports hours away to catch other flights. One of those passengers reportedly missed a funeral.
FlyerTalk members are sharply divided over this incident: some believe that this is the result of a class system where Delta Air Lines unfairly placed the members of the basketball team at a higher priority than its individual customers; while others believe that this was a business decision which was no big deal and had no easy solution. After all, the University of Florida paid for a charter flight and its team members have just as much of a right to get to their destination as other passengers — right?
Did Delta Air Lines breach any contracts or practice a form of discrimination against its passengers in order to favor a college basketball team?
Some FlyerTalk members compared this incident to being “walked” from a hotel where a guest cannot check into a room because there is no occupancy at the hotel where a room was reserved. Management of the hotel then arranges a hotel room for the guest at a different hotel property — often at a competitor — and sometimes gives some extra perks to the inconvenienced guest, such as a dinner voucher…
…except that when you are “walked”, you usually do not know the exact reason why. Did a celebrity show up at the last minute where management of the hotel property gave this celebrity priority treatment over you, for example? Was there a cancelled flight where inconvenienced passengers suddenly filled up the hotel? Does it matter?!?
Was this incident publicized simply because a college basketball team which is supposedly well-known was involved? Do incidents such as this happen more often than realized? Is this any different from when there are two flights scheduled and one aircraft is removed from service due to mechanical issues — and there are more passengers than seats on the remaining airplane?
It is interesting that this incident occurred two days before the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States reviewed a case involving S. Binyomin Ginsberg — a rabbi who flies frequently to give lectures but his Northwest Airlines WorldPerks frequent flier loyalty program account was unceremoniously revoked in June of 2008 because he supposedly complained for compensation to assorted problems too often — and here is a transcript of their review earlier this morning. After the review — which included one hour of oral arguments — the case was submitted at 11:12 in the morning with no decision, as a ruling is expected in the spring of 2014. FlyerTalk members have been divided on this case as well.
The questions in both the incident involving the cancellation of Delta Air Lines flight 5059 to accommodate a college basketball team and the case of Northwest, Incorporated versus Ginsberg are similar only in the realm of to what extent can a commercial airline unilaterally enforce decisions which may be considered unfriendly to the consumer — as well as what renumeration can the consumer expect in return for any inconvenience imposed on him or her. Ginsberg vehemently pursued this case despite the fact that Janis Sammartino — the judge at the United States District Court for the Southern District of California who presided over the legal proceedings — dismissed the case in 2009 on the grounds that the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 preempted the contract claims of Ginsburg.
Disagreeing with the dismissal of the case, the appellate panel of three judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Pasadena unanimously reversed the decision by Sammartino in August of 2011, and cautioned the United States District Court for the Southern District of California that the virtues of deregulation do not trump the common law…
…and that is what is at the heart of the matter with regards to two different situations with one common factor: how far can an airline go in terms of determining a policy considered unfair to passengers? Does Delta Air Lines have any more of a right to cancel a flight and inconvenience paying passengers to accommodate a college basketball team than Northwest Airlines had in unceremoniously revoking the WorldPerks frequent flier loyalty program account of Ginsburg?
Are passenger rights at stake here — or is this much ado about nothing and business as usual? Are these two examples of unfairness to consumers by commercial airlines; or is this simply a comparison of apples to oranges?
What do you think?

3 thoughts on “Passengers “Bumped” Off of Commercial Flight for College Basketball Team; Update on Frequent Flier Lawsuit Review by Supreme Court”

  1. diburning says:

    Two words.
    Corporate greed.

  2. SSteegar says:

    This is…sticky. It is not unusual in my experience, when a plane goes out of service, for the airline to prioritize flights in such a way that takes equipment from one flight and gives it to another. It has happened to me many times that my plane went “out”, only for the story to become, “nevermind, the plane from another flight is being pulled from a different flight and they’re cancelling that one instead” (or vice- versa).
    I don’t know whether people will consider that “right” or not but strictly speaking, this is no different. I’ve no idea how they make these decisions or if this case deviated from norms. It just has particular, awkward overtones as the bump was for a sports team. It was definitely rather clumsy.

  3. not2017 says:

    Delta is on a very slippery slope here. Richard Anderson is pushing the profit button way too hard. First switching planes so Delta can do this charter. Huh? Before this, Delta was downgrading award travelers in Business Elite to coach. What next? I have had enough of Delta! In cities that only have Delta Connection CRJs, they cancel flights constantly. Way too much for me! And I don’t fly as much as most people on Flyertalk. SkyMiles, eerrr, Skypesos, world’s worst frequent flyer program….too many miles,….you need so many miles,….there are hardly ever any low level award seats. So, Hello American Airlines? I’m back! Sorry, I left!

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