A frequent flyer loser loses a lawsuit


It was roughly nine months ago that an enterprising attorney managed to find passengers from United, Delta and American to stand up as lead plaintiffs in an effort to earn more miles (or a settlement check) from the airlines. The gist of the claim is that the actual distance traveled is much greater than the number of points credited to the customer, despite some language in the program terms which could be interpreted to suggest that’s not OK. And so the suits wended their way through the courts. On 9 January 2014 the first case came to an end.

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Click to read the entire dismissal order.

Issuing an order from his seat in the Northern District of Georgia, Judge Thomas Thrash, Jr. dismissed the case, essentially saying that the claimant is making up meanings of words.

To begin, the plain text supports the Defendant’s interpretation. The relevant segment reads: “the distance from origin to final destination.” (Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. A at 12.) This does not refer to the distance flown or the distance of the route taken. It refers to the distance between two points. This distance is fixed and would not waver based on any particular flight path. The Plaintiff argues that “the meaning of ‘distance’ must be construed in the context of travel along a route.” (Pl.’s Br. in Opp’n to Mot. to Dismiss, at 6.) This would be true if the contract referred to the distance of the travel route. Here, obviously, it does not. The Plaintiff’s next argument is essentially that the contractual wording is not so specific as to foreclose the Plaintiff’s reading. (Pl.’s Br. in Opp’n to Mot. to Dismiss, at 7.) But that does not mean the Plaintiff’s reading is the natural one. The Defendant’s reading is, and thus it controls.2

Ouch.

But wait, there’s more.

Second, “[a] contract must be given a reasonable construction which will uphold and enforce the instrument, if possible, rather than a construction which would . . . lead to an absurd result.” Tudor v. American Emp. Ins. Co., 121 Ga. App. 240, 242 (1970). Here, the Plaintiff’s reading would result in additional miles awarded for many unplanned contingencies. For example, when a plane reaches its destination, it must often circle in a holding pattern. (Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss, at 6.) According to the Plaintiff, SkyMiles members should receive a windfall of award miles for this maneuver. The same would be true if the plane had to divert around inclement weather or fly around the airport to approach a particular runway. (Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss, at 6.) By contrast, the Defendant’s reading is reasonable. It results in the award of a fixed, predictable number of miles for any given trip.

I’m not so sure that absurd is the right word to use, but I do agree that the claimant was pretty ridiculous.

And, finally, this bit of awesomeness:

Here, the Court will assume as true that the Plaintiff subjectively thought that she would be awarded miles commensurate with the distance flown. The Court does not, however, have to accept as true the legal significance that the Plaintiff attaches to this fact.

Just because you believe something doesn’t make it true. Oopsie.

At least my inebriated comedy version of a similar request was a bit more quietly ignored.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

7 Comments

  1. they are not losers. they are actual winners. the real losers are many of the bloggers begging to apply for cards from their links to get referral bonus and doing nothing against all the miles & points devaluations.
    if many of you have fought back , there wouldn’t be that many devaluations. United & Hilton are the examples

    1. How is someone filing a frivolous and costly lawsuit against the airlines helping to keep the value of the programs high?

      There are certainly battles worth fighting. This simply was not one of them. Someone tried to make a quick buck and got smacked down pretty hard. As they should have been.

    2. How does a blogger “fight back” about devaluations? You’re ascribing to them way more power than they have. These loyalty programs often have millions of members, while each blogger has a few thousand readers, and of that small fraction, only a significantly smaller fraction will actually care, act, or communicate about a devaluation. I’m a regular reader and I don’t care about the United devaluation, for example, because I don’t redeem for premium cabins on partners, and the other changes are modest. They are inevitable, and the bloggers do present strategies for dealing with them. I like to know about credit card offers (I wonder why you choose this particular blog to complain about them?), though I know some bloggers can become tiresome in their relentless plugging of certain products.

  2. A shame it even made it as far as court but sounds like a very sensible judgment was reached. Here’s hoping costs were awarded against the plaintiff!

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