Southwest Airlines Sued For Denying Early Bird Check-in Then Refusing Refunds

Southwest Airlines was sued for refusing to allow an early check-in for the flight and then for refusing to refund its money.

Gary Leff on February 21, 2021.

It is very difficult to sue an airline because of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, which eliminated the federal government’s role in choosing airlines, routes and prices, and also prevented the government from regulating airlines.

Logically, you don’t need 50 different sets of rules for an airline operating in the United States (sometimes airlines even fly to Delaware for completeness). The Supreme Court has ruled that not only does this mean that the state legislature can’t make rules about airfares and other things, but also that people can’t bring “state-level contractual claims” in court.

In many cases, if you want to be for violation of federal law or your own contract of carriage. In Northwest v. Ginsburg, the Supreme Court even ruled that you can’t sue an airline’s frequent flyer program for breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, because that too is prohibited under the Aviation Deregulation Act. I would love to see a case where someone earned their miles for non-airline business and redeemed their miles for non-airline awards.

NV Flyer reports a case where a customer paid for an “early check-in” to board earlier – his flight was canceled and he was re-enrolled on another flight, he did not get the boarding he had previously paid for (he had to buy it again!) or a refund of the early check-in fee.

Of course, Southwest Airlines argues that the lawsuit cannot be filed because it is covered by the Airline Deregulation Act. It’s the airline’s first line of defense. They say they didn’t violate their own terms, so they can stir the pot.

In Clutho v. Southwest Airlines Co. trapte de United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri daar niet in.

Southwest argued that the ADA prevented it from exercising its right to breach of contract because it “seeks to impose on Southwest mandatory standards of conduct not contained in the contract of carriage,” which did not mention the early loading surcharge.

The plaintiff excused his objection. He argued that (i) his payment of a boarding advance resulted in a unilateral agreement that Southwest breached by failing to guarantee the paid boarding advance, (ii) the transportation agreement was not relevant to the unilateral agreement, and (iii) the ADA did not preempt his claims under the agreement because it “does not purport to expand the terms of the simple agreement agreed upon by the parties.”

South West’s terms said nothing about that. So the question is simple: did they take money for something and then not provide the service?

Not dismissing the case is not the same as winning. But a day in court against an airline may not be easy. Ultimately, the question is, what did Southwest Airlines sell to the buyer?

  • Most people think of early registration as “early access.” Southwest Airlines does not assign seats, and the reason you want to be higher in the check-in line is so you can board earlier and get a preferred seat.
  • However, there is no provision for early boarding or a specific boarding order. It simply means that you will be given a boarding number after full fare and elite customers, but before people who have not paid a supplement and will get it at check-in.
  • Here it appears that the customer purchased an early check-in, their flight was cancelled and the charges were not refunded. They have again purchased an early check-in for their new flights and want to make it a class action.

From a legal standpoint, this seems to be an oversight on Southwest’s part. They could simply amend their terms and conditions to indicate that early check-in is non-refundable, even if the flight is cancelled, and thus may have a privilege. (Other possible problems with this policy are beyond the scope of this discussion).

What is strange is that Southwest’s FAQ on early check-in states that the fee is refunded if the airline cancels the flight. Why they apparently did not do so in this case is unclear.

Read more View of the wing

Frequently asked questions

Will Southwestern bring the bird back early?

All EarlyBird Check-In® purchases are non-refundable. Customers who cancel their flight will lose the EarlyBird Check-In® option previously purchased for that specific flight. If a flight is cancelled by Southwest, the EarlyBird Check-In® option purchased for the cancelled flight will be refunded.

Can I sue the airline for non-refund?

That’s where Dafina Sharp might be headed after Delta refused to return a canceled flight to Africa. She believes she is legally entitled to a full refund. Passengers can sue their airline, but there is a limit to the compensation they can receive.

Is it worth joining Early Bird Southwest?

Even if you check in exactly 24 hours before departure, you may end up in group “C” and get a seat in this group. 2. … If you prefer to sit at the front of the plane or if you prefer an aisle, window, bulkhead or exit seat, it may be helpful to check in advance.

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