Northwest Airlines
Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

Supreme Court to Hear Case of Northwest Airlines Versus Ginsburg

S. Binyomin Ginsberg is a rabbi who flies frequently to give lectures.
However, Northwest Airlines dismissed Ginsburg unceremoniously from its WorldPerks frequent flier loyalty program 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 — prompting him to file a class action lawsuit in January of 2009 seeking five million dollars against the airline in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California.

Supreme Court to Hear Case of Northwest Airlines Versus Ginsburg

While Ginsburg claimed that the revocation of his membership in the WorldPerks frequent flier loyalty program was arbitrary and without adequate cause, Janis Sammartino — the judge who presided over the legal proceedings — dismissed the case 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 — paving the way for Ginsburg to continue pursuing legal action against Delta Air Lines, which had since merged with Northwest Airlines…
…and now the lawsuit will be heard by the judges of the highest court in the land, as the Supreme Court of the United States announced today that it will hear the case of Northwest Airlines versus Ginsburg, according to an article authored by Bart Jansen of USA Today.
The case is expected to determine what constitutes the justification of an airline revoking the frequent flier loyalty program membership of a traveler.


Do you believe that Ginsburg might have been doing everything he can to procure as much money and benefits as he can from the airline — or does he have a legitimate claim? Regardless of what the judges of the Supreme Court decide, what could the outcome of this case potentially mean for memberships of frequent flier loyalty programs in the future?

Photograph ©2006 by Brian Cohen.

  1. Its 1 thing to complain and if they chalk over any compensation you make out.Its another to complain and what seems to be demand and maybe even tell them what you expect as a min.
    All thats mentioned is 24 complaints within an 8 month period.Could be he was doing this for years just not as often and by doing it so often it raised a Red Flag and NW saw this guy always complained and demanded compensation and felt it was in the best interests of the Carrier to be rid of him.
    Hate to admitt it but I dont blame NW for doing what it did and frankly Im very surprised that other carriers havent folowed siut after reading many a post on FT, lets not forget about the Hotel programs either where people go crazy (wont mention 1 site where the guy always brags about what he was able to weasle out of the Hotels)

  2. This article is misleading. The court is hearing the federal preemption argument (i.e. whether this case can be heard in the courts at all) not the merits of the case itself.

  3. Thank you for the clarification, chewy3 — and you pose a good argument with some valid points, craz. Thank you as well.

  4. There seems to be a disconnect between the alleged offense and the punishment. If Northwest felt that Rabbi Ginsberg’s complained too often in the hope of receiving compensation, they should have sent out a letter like this:
    Dear Rabbi Ginsberg:
    We welcome you as a customer and welcome the opportunity to be notified when our services fall short of the standards to which we and other air carriers hold ourselves.
    However, we do need to notify you that you have reached the maximum lifetime compensation for any failures or inconveniences experienced with Northwest. We will certainly continue to log your complaints and use them to improve the service we provide to all Northwest customers, but will no longer be able to offer any compensation in any way for any service failures on our part, no matter how egregious, and due to the volume of your complaints we will no longer be able to respond to them individually, which will include any complaints about this letter.
    Thank you for being a Northwest customer.
    Problem solved. Northwest lets Rabbi Ginsberg know that his complaints won’t receive compensation or response.
    Throwing him out of WorldPerks is an overreaction to the alleged offense. He made somebody at Northwest mad, and they lashed out at him, out of proportion to the problem at hand. Which is why they are now facing legal action far more expensive to respond to than a lifetime of his complaints would have been

  5. Pdsales,
    Your approach is simplistic. It doesn’t even meets requirements of the U.S. DOT with respect to passenger protections, nor does it meets common tests of appropriate corporate communications.

  6. Agree with chewy3 – this sentence is simply wrong:
    “The case is expected to determine what constitutes the justification of an airline revoking the frequent flier loyalty program membership of a traveler.”
    The SC decision has absolutely NOTHING to do with the merits of Ginsberg’s case – the SC will be looking at the question of whether he can even have the merits of his case heard in the first place.

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