ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Jeremy Telman
Oklahoma City University
School of Law

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

United Airlines and Unequal Bargaining Positions

It's by now common knowledge that United Airlines finally fessed up to its mistakes and promised not to use police to drag paying customers who held valid contracts and thus tickets with the airline off the planes anymore.  That seems like, uhm, a reasonable policy.

Now, as I have said before: when are we as a society going to wake up to and thus call for, yes, REGULATORY change in relation to the clearly dysfunctional contractual relationship between the few remaining American airlines and paying customers?  This recent debacle with the Asian doctor bloodied while being physically dragged away from a valid contractual situation (I know, I know, the airline had a right to oversell and so forth) shows the results of a clearly unequal bargaining position.

Let's call it what it is: unacceptable and abusively unequal commercial practice.  What, for example, if YOU want to change your ticket?  Good luck trying to do that unless you paid ten or so times what a regular ticket would be.  As I have also mentioned before: how about price gouging, or whatever we as attorneys may label the following: buying an airline ticket from point A to B in Europe with some low cost carriers will cost you very, very little.  Here, "low cost" carriers still charge you hundreds and hundreds of dollars.  I agree, the market place and capitalist system is better than the alternative, but it is far from perfect.  For what alternative do we have? Take the train? Drive?!  Right... in a country of this size, you just cannot reasonably do that.  

Or how about this: my elderly mother can fly to Los Angeles from Copenhagen and back on KLM/Delta Airlines for less than half of what I would have to pay on the VERY SAME AIRLINE, DATES, etc.   Yes, I've checked it.  Same route, you name it.  That's not "market forces," then, that's cheating customers because one can.

Airlines are great and provide a great and necessary service to many of us.  In fact, so necessary that they have, for all intents and purposes, become the "bus companies" or railroads of today.  Just as railroad companies and bus service providers were and are, to the best of my non-native knowledge, subject to quite some regulations, so would it not be unreasonable to look into the modern practices of airlines today.  Airlines around the world make a good living while facing quite a bit more regulation than American carriers do.  We are often being played for fools here.  We just put up with it too much.

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