CNN reports the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday in the case of a Minneapolis member of the former Northwest Airline's WorldPerks program. The case will be a test of consumer versus corporate rights.
The plaintiff is a former "frequent flier" whom the airline calls a "frequent complainer."
Rabbi Binyomin Ginsberg, former dean of Torah Academy in St. Louis Park, joined the Frequent Flier program in 1999 because he travels a lot for work. The rabbi writes parenting columns for several Jewish outlets and is the education director for Living Lessons. By 2005, he had attained Platinum Elite status.
But in June of 2008, Ginsberg claimed a Northwest representative called him to say his status was being revoked on grounds that he "abused" the program, according to court papers.
Ginsberg said the airline also took away the hundreds of thousands of miles accumulated in his account.
"It didn't make sense. Initially, when they contacted me on the phone I thought it was a prank call," Ginsberg told CNN. "When I pushed for a reason and clarification, they told me it was because I was complaining too much."
Northwest clarified its position in a letter a month later.
"You have continually asked for compensation over and above our guidelines. 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," the letter said. "Due to our past generosity, we must respectfully advise that we will no longer be awarding you compensation each time you contact us."
Aviation Magazine reported that Northwest Airlines believes it has a right to set its own policies, as a result of the Airline Deregulation Act 1978, which exposed passengers to market forces in the airline industry.
The Times of Israel reports Ginsberg filed a class-action lawsuit in January 2009 seeking $5 million against the airline in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California.
In an interview with City Pages in August 2011, Ginsberg said, “This happened at the time that Northwest and Delta were merging. The suspicion was that they had too many frequent fliers at the higher status in their roll, and they were showing too much of a liability on a balance sheet for the accumulated miles by those passengers. So they had to creatively find ways of getting rid of people.”
But that court dismissed his claim, citing the ADA. On June 9, 2011, Ginsberg filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In August, the court ruled in his favor.
Last spring the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case this term.