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Planning A Flight For The Holidays? You May Have To Fight For Your Flight

The holiday season is upon us, and your plans include going to grandmother's house over the hill and through the woods, but like other modern travelers, you're planning on taking an airplane flight

And you're dreading it.  You know what the holiday crush is like:  canceled flights, misplaced baggage, long lines and the added thrill of having your underwear x-rayed by the Transportation Security Agency, let alone the crowds of surly passengers, crying babies and understaffed, bankrupt airlines whose pilots are planning on going on strike right before your flight departs. 

Rethinking your plans yet?  Well, never fear, the Courts are sympathetic to your plight.  Take the case of Thatcher A. Stone of Akerman Senterfitt LLP, an aviation lawyer and law professor at the University of Virginia who went through much of what I described, decided he wasn't going to take it anymore, and sued Continental Airlines

Thatcher, who is divorced, planned to take his daughter to Telluride, Colorado for a week-long ski vacation between Christmas and New Year's Day last year.  After checking their bags and clearing security, they arrived at the Continental Airlines gate in Newark, New Jersey, when they were "bumped" on an otherwise oversold flight, and presented with the option to leave from Newark on the day before they were scheduled to return from Telluride.  Thatcher refused the offer, if you can call that option an offer.

To add insult to injury, the baggage handlers had transferred their bags to the plane departing for Telluride, but refused to pull the bags off.  All of their winter ski clothes went to Telluride.  Thatcher and his daughter were officially bumped, and went home to Manhattan, where Thatcher lives and practices.  Their bags returned from Telluride four days after the bags left on the Christmas-day flight.

Not to be dissuaded since he didn't get to spend much time with his daughter, once their winter clothes returned, Thatcher went to Stratton, Vermont but was only able to get there for one day. 

Judge Diane Lebedeff understood his frustration, and awarded $3,110 to him against Continental Airlines.  She issued a thirteen-page opinion (which is on Thatcher Stone's webpage), according to this AP article, and cited a law review study that "since 1990, an average of 900,000 domestic passengers a year are bumped. The U.S. Department of Transportation says 96 percent of those passengers accept the airlines' compensation offers, leaving about 36,000 bumped passengers who may be entitled to sue."

So there's hope for the 36,000 of us who have enjoyed the same experience as Thatcher.  At least we know a good Plaintiff's lawyer.


Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, November 17, 2005

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