The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear the case of Binyomin Ginsberg, the rabbi who was allegedly kicked out of a frequent-flier program for complaining too much about the service. The court case could potentially define what liberties airlines have to set and enforce their own policies under the Airline Deregulation Act.
Ginsberg sued Northwest Airlines for a breach of contract after the carrier, which was absorbed by Delta Air Lines in a 2008 merger, said he had abused his privileges by repeatedly filing complaints for upgrades and other benefits. According to Northwest’s written arguments, the carrier revoked Ginsberg’s membership in the WorldPerks Platinum Elite program in June 2008 after he had complained 24 times in eight months about the carrier’s service.
“You have continually asked for compensation over and above our guidelines,” Northwest said in a letter sent to Ginsberg, according to court papers. “We have awarded you $1,925 in travel credit vouchers, 78,500 WorldPerks bonus miles, a voucher extension for your son, and $491 in cash reimbursements. Due to our past generosity, we must respectfully advise that we will no longer be awarding you compensation each time you contact us.”
Northwest pointed to a paragraph in the fine print of its WorldPerks Program that said abuse “may result in cancellation of the member’s account and future disqualification from program participation, forfeiture of all mileage accrued and cancellation of previously issued but unused awards.”
Ginsberg is dean of Torah Academy in Minneapolis and claims he travels as much as 75 times per year for lectures. He joined Northwest’s WorldPerks program in 1999 and reached Platinum Elite status in 2005, three years before the troubles began. His lawyers said the complaints to Northwest’s customer care that year amounted to just 10 percent of his trips. After he was dropped “without cause” and lost his unused miles, Ginsberg filed a federal class-action lawsuit in 2009 (on behalf of others who might have been treated in the same way) seeking $5 million.
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"Rabbi Ginsberg appealed solely with respect to the claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing," Ginsberg's written argument alleged. Northwest has countered that the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 prevents any lawsuit governing “price, route or service of an air carrier.” After a U.S. District Court dismissed Ginsberg’s case, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated it. Now, Northwest wants the Supreme Court to define how much freedom airlines have to set their own policies under the 1978 act. The case -- Northwest, Inc. v. Ginsberg (12-462) -- will make its way to the Supreme Court in the fall term, which begins this October.