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Rabbi Ginsberg

Can an airline throw you out of its frequent flyer program if it thinks you complain too much? Northwest Airlines thinks it can, but the U.S. Supreme Court will have the last word.

The court has agreed to hear the case of Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg vs. Northwest in December. The Minneapolis-area rabbi challenged Northwest after it stripped him of his elite Platinum status in 2008.

Rabbi Ginsberg is a consultant, author and speaker who flies hundreds of times per year. He came to rely on his Platinum status for upgraded seats and the other goodies the airlines bestow on their best customers.

But one day in 2008, he got a call from Northwest advising him that he was being booted out of the frequent-flier program. Why? Ginsberg says Northwest told him he complained too much.

Suspicious timing

Ginsberg admits he complained about things like lost and delayed luggage but he doesn't think that's the real reason he was ejected.

"This happened at the time that Northwest and Delta were merging," he told the Minneapolis City Pages. "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."

Others may have gone quietly but not Ginsberg. He filed suit in federal court and, after a series of dismissals and appeals, the case is headed for the Supreme Court, where Ginsberg will be represented by Public Citizen.

Northwest Airlines Sept. 17, 2013, 5:33 p.m.
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The question before the court is whether the Airline Deregulation Act pre-empts Ginsberg’s contract claim based on the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The answer is no, according to Supreme Court precedent, Public Citizen says in its brief.

“The Airline Deregulation Act does not give airlines free rein to breach the obligation to perform their contracts in good faith.” said Adina Rosenbaum, the Public Citizen attorney who will argue the case before the Supreme Court in December. “Moreover, claims that are about membership in a frequent flyer program are not sufficiently related to air travel to be pre-empted.”


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