St. Louis Park Rabbi Binyomin Ginsberg was ousted from Northwest Airlines’ WorldPerks loyalty program for complaining too often about getting bumped from flights and repeatedly seeking compensation the airline considered unfair.
The justices decided airlines have sole discretion to drop frequent fliers. Airlines argued they can’t tailor their programs to a patchwork of consumer laws in 50 states.
In overturning the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that travelers have protection from being mistreated because they could sue for possible breach of contract, just not for covenants that Ginsberg had argued were implied by participating in a loyalty program.
“They can avoid an airline with a poor reputation and possibly enroll in a more favorable rival program,” Alito wrote in the 18-page decision. “Moreover, the Department of Transportation has the authority to investigate complaints about frequent flyer programs.”
Northwest is now part of Delta Air Lines. The company dropped Ginsberg in June 2008 after he complained 24 times in eight months. He flies 75 times a year to lecture.
His lawyer, Adina Rosenbaum from the consumer group Public Citizen, argued that airlines should be forced to act in good faith, even when those “implied covenants” aren’t spelled out in the contracts for loyalty programs.