Doesn’t Even Leave The Airport

by Walter Olson on May 28, 2008

“A New York lawyer is suing Delta Air Lines for $1 million, saying his family vacation turned into a nightmare after they were stranded in an airport for days and treated disdainfully by airline employees. Richard Roth, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of himself and his mother, said he planned the Christmas 2007 trip to Buenos Aires to celebrate his mother’s 80th birthday.” (Reuters/MSNBC, AP/Atlanta Journal Constitution). Best quote, arguably, from Roth: “I tried so hard not to sue them.” (New York Post). Scott Greenfield is not entirely admiring (or maybe he is, it’s hard to tell).

P.S. Okay, you win, then: Greenfield was being entirely admiring of the action, million-dollar-demand and all.


1 Joe Bingham 05.28.08 at 11:56 pm

Misread SGH’s post, maybe? Not sure.

2 Walter Olson 05.29.08 at 12:09 am

I adjusted the final wording slightly based on the possibility that Greenfield _was_ being entirely admiring of Roth — though it still seems more likely to me that he was feeling mixed emotions about the whole tale, which was part of what lent interest to his post.

3 Peter 05.29.08 at 4:23 am

Can you explain whay this is on Overlawyered. Are you trying to say that he should not be sueing the airline, or there is some other appropriate action he should be taking, or that he is asking too much? Waht specifically about this case that puts it in the roll of honour at Overlawyered?

4 cc 05.29.08 at 6:55 am

To paraphrase Dickie Scruggs from 20/20 – That’s why they sell travel insurance.

5 Ted Frank 05.29.08 at 8:13 am

How reasonable was Roth’s mitigation of damages? ($21,000 for three nights and four tickets? Really? They wouldn’t have had to buy food if Delta’s flight was on time?) The emotional distress figure is obviously high, and punitive damages are inappropriate without evidence of malice in enforcing airline rules that the sealed cabin door isn’t reopened.

Then there’s the question of what the contract for the plane ticket they bought says; the family received the benefit of the bargain in terms of a lower planefare if it disclaims consequential damages for missed connections, and shouldn’t get to have it both ways — the Roths might not have been able to afford to go to Buenos Aires if the airline charged a price that included travel insurance.

Consumer choice is important. Some people don’t want to pay for travel insurance. Roth is taking a position that airlines have to provide travel insurance whether or not the consumer wants it (and not just travel insurance for missed connections, but travel insurance for emotional distress, which would be considerably more expensive), and that indisputably makes consumers worse off. And not even travel insurance covers late flights.

6 OBQuiet 05.29.08 at 8:21 am

Someone more familiar with details of air travel please correct me if I am wrong. But I thought that ATC only assigns you a departure slot once you button up the plane. If that is the case and traffic is congested, opening up to let on a late arrival could add a great deal of time to your wheels-up point. What price should the Roths have been charged for delaying all the other passengers by doing that?

7 John Burgess 05.29.08 at 9:40 am

Some airlines require that you actively choose or reject travel insurance before they’ll complete an on-line ticket purchase. They also require that you acknowledge that you’ve read and understand the terms and conditions. That last (the understanding part) might be asking the impossible and therefore unenforceable by law, but the airlines have some contractual cover anyway.

8 Joe Bingham 05.29.08 at 9:56 am

Maybe a better response than suing would be not using Delta anymore. For the same reason I don’t fly USAirways. There are plenty of airlines with good service. Use them. It’s like suing Wal-Mart because their stores are dirtier than Target’s!

9 Revenge! 05.29.08 at 12:15 pm

This man is insane for suing Delta for $1 million. He should sue them for $10 million. This will be a wake up call for some airline companies to be responsible for their bad customer services they have been given toward fliers. Nearly every ticket purchased is non-refundable dispite the fact those airline companies are usually at fault! I had a bad experience with US Airways. They practically stole my money!

10 Tracy 05.29.08 at 12:28 pm

Ah, nothing like the rational response of the foolish. Bad customer service /= financial windfalls.

11 Bumper 05.29.08 at 12:38 pm

Yikes, I read the story and felt Delta was getting off easy. I guess I’ll check myself in for some de-sensitivity training over the weekend.

My take was the cause of this was a tool of an employee at the gate. Ten to one the reason they didn’t open the door and board them was either a Power Trip by said gate attendant or Delta had already sold their seats for a higher price, which given his tickets were purchased with frequent flyer miles means anyone with a credit card.

But I agree with the others, vote with your billfold. I grew up flying Delta and the last time I flew Delta was when the American flight we were on had problems and AA put us on a Delta flight. That was over twenty years ago. These days if Southwest doesn’t fly there neither do I. I know exactly what level of service I am paying for, they almost always exceed it AND they get me there in one piece and on time. Plus they fight B$ lawsuits to the death and usually win.

But it does sound like our friend, Mr. Roth had already made a similar decision in flavor of Delta, hence all those frequent flyer miles to spend.

12 Brad 05.29.08 at 3:46 pm

One thing that seems to not be mentioned anywhere: why were they denied boarding in the first place? As a “certified road-warrior” (~100,000 miles/year) I have seen enough cases of people non-chalantly walking up to international flights 10 minutes before departure time and being surprised that they aren’t boarded. Some then act irrationally as if the rest of the world should be expected to tolerate their incapability to read a clock. The gate agents’ responses to such behavior is generally consistent with what this lawyer is suing over. My suspicion (purely a guess) is that Mr. Roth’s arrival was indeed after the “cut-off” deadline. He had the misfortune of travelling at the beginning of what is the busiest travel season of the year–of course they can’t board him for several days–everybody else is also taking flights for Xmas…

If my suspicion is right, I’d love to see Delta countersue. Can corporations sue for slander?

13 Bill Poser 05.29.08 at 4:03 pm


The article says that their flight from New York to Atlanta was two hours late, so it wasn’t their fault that they were late.

14 Joe Bingham 05.29.08 at 4:51 pm

These days if Southwest doesn’t fly there neither do I. I know exactly what level of service I am paying for, they almost always exceed it AND they get me there in one piece and on time. Plus they fight B$ lawsuits to the death and usually win.

Words to live by. I don’t know why people fly with other airlines and then complain about customer service. There’s a reason SW’s reputation is great and other airlines’ are crappy.

15 Nikki Pratt 05.30.08 at 12:06 am

Having flown non-rev as a kid, I can tell you that if that door is open, and seats are available, they’ll put somebody in it. I’ve seen non-revs kicked off of the plane when the original ticket person showed up. What they did to that man and his family was horrible.

Having just flown out the whole family out for a funeral with paid tickets, we all agreed that Continental had the best service. Northwest was okay but having to buy your food on a 12 hr flight was just tacky. And Delta was HORRIBLE. My mom spent hours on the phone and then three hours at the airport in person to get just one ticket fixed.

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