In 2008, after nine years of membership in Northwest’s WorldPerks frequent flier program — three of those years with Platinum Elite status — a Minnesota man was given some bad news from airline: He had been removed from the program and had lost hundreds of thousands of miles. Why? Because his numerous complaints apparently constituted “abuse” of the program.
“It didn’t make sense. Initially, when they contacted me on the phone I thought it was a prank call,” the man tells CNN. “When I pushed for a reason and clarification, they told me it was because I was complaining too much.”
Northwest cited 24 complaints in the eight months leading up to its July 2008 decision to kick the traveler out of its program:
You have continually asked for compensation over and above our guidelines. We have awarded you $1,925.00 in travel credit vouchers, 78,500 WorldPerks bonus miles, a voucher extension for your son, and $491.00 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.
The man has since filed suit against Northwest (now Delta), saying that his complaints were not too frequent, given that he and his wife were flying around 75 times per year on the airline.
“They should have taken their time and analyzed: Were my complaints legitimate?” he says to CNN. “Should they be doing something to improve their service and quality of product? Instead of worrying, we’ve got to shut up somebody who is complaining too much.”
In 2008, Northwest pointed out terms in the WorldPerks contract that gave the airline “sole judgment” whether a passenger has abused the program, and that 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.”
The man sued the airline in 2009, but a California district court sided with Northwest’s argument that the Airline Deregulation Act, which prohibits parties from bringing state law claims against airlines that relate to a “price, route, or service” of the carrier, preempted his claim. The case was dismissed, but a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently reversed the lower court’s decision, saying the intention of the Airline Deregulation Act was not to “immunize the airline industry from liability for common law contract claims.”
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Air Transport Association has filed a brief backing Delta. The organization believes the appeals court ruling “could result in the very danger of inconsistent local regulation that Congress sought to prevent when it deregulated the industry.”