The Supreme Court ruled unanimously against frequent flyer Rabbi Ginsberg in the case of Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg vs. Northwest. As reported earlier by InsideFlyer, Rabbi Ginsberg filed a case against Northwest Airlines after he was stripped of his Northwest WorldPerks Platinum status in 2008 for allegedly complaining too much. Northwest regarded Rabbi Ginsberg’s complaints excessive and an abuse of the frequent flyer program.
Rabbi Ginsberg lost his final appeal when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Airline Deregulation Act (ADA) covers the terms and conditions of the frequent flyer program and that state law does not preempt the ADA. The court explained that flyers still have protection against being treated poorly by airlines because the free market nature of frequent flyer programs allows consumers to choose a rival program if they are mistreated by a particular program. The court also stated that the Department of Transportation provides protection for members of frequent flyer programs as it has authority to investigate and act on consumer complaints. The court may have left an opening for future complaints by suggesting that with increasing opportunities for frequent flyers to earn miles and points through activities other than just strictly taking flights, frequent flyer programs could become less closely tied to airline operations and more closely tied to third-party partners, thus eliminating protection under ADA.
Bottom line: The court ruled that consumers can still sue an airline for breach of contract, but not for breaking or violating a covenant.