The U.S. Supreme Court seemed reluctant Tuesday to expand the right of airline passengers to sue when they're terminated from frequent flier programs, judging from comments by the justices in the case of a man who was dumped from the WorldPerks program of Northwest Airlines.
Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg of Minnesota, who travels widely to lecture on education, became a member of Northwest's frequent flier program in 1999. But in 2008, as the airline prepared to merge with Delta, he was notified that his WorldPerks status was revoked because he had, in the airline's words, "abused the program."
In one seven-month period, for example, the airline said he filed 24 complaints and "continually asked for compensation over and above" Northwest's guidelines.
A customer representative later e-mailed him, quoting from the WorldPerks terms and conditions that said membership could be terminated for "improper conduct as determined by Northwest in its sole judgment."
When Ginsberg sued, the airline said his case was blocked by a federal law, the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, which barred the states from interfering in decisions about airline prices or services.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1995, in another case involving a dispute over frequent flier programs, that the federal law allowed customers to sue only when they claimed the airline had breached its own contract with passengers.