Supreme Court Takes Up Frequent Flier Rights In Rabbi Ginsberg vs. Northwest


binyomin-ginsbergWho has the final say when it comes to frequent flier membership privileges? Are airlines the judge, jury and executioner? Or do program members have some rights?

The Supreme Court addressed those questions Tuesday in a case that may have far-reaching implications for commercial air travelers, NPR reports.

The case was brought by Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg, who claims his frequent flier membership with Northwest Airlines was terminated in 2007 because he complained too often to the airline about its services.

NPR reports that Northwest claimed Ginsberg called their frequent flier number two dozen times over a seven-month period to register complaints. He said he never asked for anything in return. The airline said he sought compensation.

Ginsberg told NPR, “I did exactly what they asked you to do. If you have a negative experience, they want you to give them feedback.”

Northwest, which merged with Delta Airlines in 2008, gave Ginsberg “nearly $2,000 worth of travel vouchers, 78,000 in bonus miles, and $491 in cash for a lost bag,” according to NPR.

Then, a short time later, Ginsberg was told that he was no longer a member of Northwest’s frequent flier program because he had abused the privilege. He told NPR that his miles were confiscated and that he couldn’t join the program again.

Via NPR:

“Ginsberg says he thought it was a joke at first. But when he realized it wasn’t, he asked for an explanation. ‘And they said, “Because you complained too much about our service,”‘ he says.

“When he called the legal department to follow up, he says he was told that under federal law the airline has ‘total discretion’ in such matters.”

The case has been heard in other federal courtrooms. In 2011, a Federal Appeals Court ruled that Ginsberg’s case be reconsidered after a lower federal court had dismissed the suit. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court was all ears. But the case is about much more than Ginsberg’s right to complain (and the $5 million in damages he initially sought).

Ginsberg is claiming breach of contract under Minnesota state law, Reuters explains. The tricky part is that the airline industry was deregulated in the 1970s by a federal law. So, does Ginsberg even have the right to sue under Minnesota state law?

Northwest Airlines said it had “sole judgment” over its frequent flier program’s terms and conditions, CNN reports.

Via CNN:

“At issue is whether Ginsberg has a right under state law to bring his case or whether it is preempted by a 1970s-era federal law that deregulated the airline industry.

“That law prohibits parties from bringing similar state claims against airlines relating to a ‘price, route, or service’ of the carrier.”

Ginsberg told CNN, “To me, it’s outright fraud. You can’t take somebody’s mileage away when they’ve accumulated it. We live in a country that was built on freedom and this to me is a tremendous abuse of freedom.”

However, he may have to prepare for disappointment. Reuters reports that the Supreme Court justices “voiced skepticism on Tuesday about whether an airline customer could sue after being thrown out of a frequent flyer program.”

Though some of the justices expressed sympathy for customers who are treated poorly, “the majority appeared concerned that a ruling for the flyer, Rabbi Binyomin Ginsberg, could upset the federal system for regulating airlines.”

A decision is expected in June 2014.

Read more at Yahoo News.

{ Newscenter}


  1. The fact that the picture is in public view across the Country with a Heimisha looking Yid wearing a “black” Yarlmuka will only be looked upon in a negative light. We don’t need to air our dirty laundry in public. Even if he is %100 right, this clearly falls under the category of “Zi paas nisht. What kind of message does this send to our children? Always got to fight fight fight? Show backbone? Don’t be a shmata? Matzav, please don’t show your immaturity and cover up/edit/ sanitize this message.

  2. I am always embarrassed when Yidden make a fuss about things and complain – especially on such a grand scale. Unfortunately Yidden often have a strong sense of entitlement – whether it be at a restaurant, airline, etc. It is an embarrassment and chillul H-shem.

  3. #4: R’ Ginsberg was my 5th grade rebbe. He is a good man, a Talmud Chochom, and is certainly aware of the Orchos Tzadikim (a sefer which also mentions people who criticize others in public, Mr. Anonymous). His complaints were apparently of consequence, and this fight in the Supreme Court may set a precedent that protect your rights as a consumer.
    A Lichdekeh Chanukah

  4. I read the article in todays Wall Street Journal. I was disturbed by this story. Let’s compare the Rabbi from New Haven, CT who made a grand Kiddush Hashem of the highest order, to this story of falling right into the stereotype of gelt gruben Jews, out to get every last privilege that’s “coming to them”. We, as Frum Jews, have to know that we are constantly being micro analyzed by the Goyim & even the non Frum. Is it really worth the 2 free flights? As a Frum Jew, I was very disturbed by this story.

  5. What a wonderful man he is. He earned his miles, and deserves every one of them. If you earn your miles, you want every one of them also. Don’t you. So what is fair is fair, and what is right is right. Let him work it out, and everyone out there: it’s none of your business!

  6. I see that what specifically bothered me about this story was not mentioned by any of the above.

    The US Supreme Court receives about 10,000 petitions for a writ of certiorari each year. The Court grants and hears about 75-80 cases (less then 1%)source: Now, the case of a Rabbi being thrown off an Airlines Frequent flyer program was important enough that they took the case while R’ SMR who was sentenced to a draconian 27 YEARS in PRISON who claims that the sentencing judge was biased AND THE SCOTUS TURNS IT DOWN???? IS THAT “SUPREME” COURT?? not so “SUPREME” in my eyes!!! They have lost touch!!

  7. You are all right – this matter should not have come to the Supreme Court, we have to not make a chilul Hashem, etc. Yet, you should all realize some important and noteworthy facts. Number one, all those who are making statements of chilul Hashem, of how we Jews are always complaining, etc., I ask you what you would do if someone stole $25,000 from you. Would you not try and get the money back from him or would you say that it will be a chilul Hashem? All of you who are making your comments about the Supreme Court taking this case and not that of Rubashkin, simply are so off base and it shows how little you know. #1, who decided to take this case to the Supreme Court? #2: I am sure that R’ Ginsberg would give away his last penny to get Rubashkin out. Why are you making any connection with Rubashkin, implying something negative about R’ Ginsberg?

    Finally, I have to tell you that I read hundreds of comments on these sites. It is amazing that the majority of the comments are positive comments and support to R’ Ginsberg’s position.