ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Jeremy Telman
Oklahoma City University
School of Law

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Another Airline Settles With a Dissatisfied Passenger

Screenshot 2023-11-01 at 9.26.40 PMRecently, we brought you a story of people who gave up their premium seats rather than share an aisle with  a gassy slobbering dog.  They recovered the difference between the premium seats and coach and, they say, donated to a charity that matches up people with presumably non-gassy service animals.  Today, thanks to OCU 1L Taysia Stephens (left), we bring you another story of a consumer victory over the airlines, this time in small claims court.

According to Kathleen Wong writing in USA Today, Erika Hamilton, an Oregon lawyer, purchased two seats on an American Airlines flight, one for her and her 18-month-old daughter, who would sit in her lap, and another for the daughter's twin.  How did Ms. Hamilton choose which child got the lap and which one got the seat?  Was one of her daughters more of a lapchild?  Ms. Wong's reporting is silent on the subject.

In any case, Ms. Hamilton's preferred arrangement  is allowed under the airline's rules and FAA rules. A flight attendant told Ms. Hamilton that her second child needed to be in a car seat, and the flight attendant was not persuaded when Ms. Hamilton pulled up the airline's and the FAA's relevant rules and shared them with the stubborn employee.  Another passenger offered to travel with Ms. Hamilton's second child in her lap, and Ms. Hamilton felt she had no choice but to agree to the arrangement, even though she believed it was safer for the daughter to sit in her own seat with a seat belt.  

The flight attendant eventually relented and apologized, but Ms. Hamilton sued in small claims court seeking $3500.  The case settled, with American agreeing to award Ms. Hamilton 4500 miles.  It is unclear whether that means 4500 miles of free travel or 4500 miles on American's frequent flyer program.  Either way, it seems odd that the reward for a terrible experience on the airline is more time spent on the airline.  

There is a New Yorker cartoon that would be the perfect accompaniment for this article, if only I could find it and it weren't subject to copyright protection.  It depicts a father telling a child, "One day, you will grow up to hate all of the major airlines."  One can imagine Ms. Hamilton preparing her twins for what lies ahead for them with the same sage prediction.

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