Supreme Court: Rabbi Cannot Sue for Being Removed From Frequent Flier Program

Photograph ©2008 by Brian Cohen.

The justices of the Supreme Court of the United States ruled unanimously in the case of Northwest, Incorporated versus Ginsberg that the lawsuit initiated by S. Binyomin Ginsberg against Delta Air Lines was barred by the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.
This means that the rabbi cannot sue the airline on allegations he was unfairly removed from a frequent flier program, based on opinion by Samuel Alito, who is an associate justice of the Supreme Court.
Ginsburg 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 had the audacity to file 24 complaints within a period of eight months about the airline’s service and sought compensation — which resulted in $1,925.00 in travel credit vouchers, $491.00 in cash reimbursements, 78,500 WorldPerks frequent flier loyalty program miles and the extension of a voucher for his son.
The merger of Northwest Airlines with Delta Air Lines was approved by the United States Department of Justice in October of 2008 — which is why Ginsburg was suing Delta Air Lines.
Alleging that Northwest Airlines violated a contractual duty to act in good faith, Ginsburg filed a class action lawsuit in January of 2009 seeking a judgment of five million dollars against the airline in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. That case was dismissed; and a universal reversal of that decision by the appellate panel of three judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Pasadena in 2011 was key in leading up to the final ruling by the justices of the Supreme Court of this case.
“The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion”, according to the last line of the 15-page document detailing the ruling by the justices of the Supreme Court.
The membership of Ginsberg in the Northwest Airlines WorldPerks frequent flier loyalty program was terminated in 2008, reportedly based on a clause which stated that the airline “in its sole judgment” could remove a customer who abused the program.
The review of this case by the justices of the Supreme Court was announced back in November of 2013, after an announcement was released in May of 2013 that the justices of the Supreme Court would hear this case.
“That’s an incredibly broad ruling”, opined FlyerTalk member mahasamatman. “It basically flushes all claims against frequent flyer programs, including the United million-miler suit.”
The lawsuit to which mahasamatman is referring is the claim that United Airlines removed some of the benefits it promised to bestow upon members who earned and achieved million miler status in the MileagePlus frequent flier loyalty program, thereby breaching its contract with them. That lawsuit was dismissed by Harry Leinenweber, who is a federal judge for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
“Now we will need another Supreme Court Ruling for the definition of the word abused”, posted FlyerTalk member UncleDude in this discussion. “If not then Airlines could say that buying flowers etc to keep an account active and not being a Frequent Flyer abused their program.”
FlyerTalk member FWAAA disagrees. “This customer was an extraordinary PITA and was rightfully fired by NW. Some customers just aren’t worth keeping, and this guy was Exhibit A…It’s clear (at least to me) that he was guilty of abuse. Buying flowers to keep your mileage balance active isn’t abuse. Contacting WP customer service 24 times in less than seven months is abuse. Repeatedly demanding compensation for petty slights is abuse.”
Although I generally agree that we cannot rely upon the government to protect us, FlyerTalk member HongKonger is specific about the role of the justices of the Supreme Court: “It’s not the SCotUS’ job to protect the consumer, its job is to render a legal judgment on the case at bar.”
What are your thoughts? How could this ruling affect the future of frequent flier loyalty programs — if it indeed will affect them — in the future?

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