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Supreme Court hears frequent flyer case

WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court heard argument Tuesday on when airlines can kick complaining passengers out of frequent flyer programs.

A Minnesota rabbi and lecturer, Binyomin Ginsberg, was a frequent complainer as well as a frequent flyer. He particularly objected to getting stuck in an airliner on the tarmac for hours without an explanation.

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His complaints -- 24 formal ones in eight months -- so irritated Northwest Airlines, now part of Delta Airlines, that the carrier ended his membership in the in the WorldPerks Platinum Elite program in 2008.

The terms of the program specifically said Northwest had "sole discretion" to end someone's participation for any reason.

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Ginsberg filed a class action suit in U.S. District Court seeking $5 million, but a federal judge dismissed the case. A federal appeals court reversed, saying his suit was not pre-empted by federal law.

The 1978 Airline Deregulation Act says states "may not enact or enforce a law, regulation or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route or service of an air carrier."

The appeals court said Ginsberg's claims were not categorically related to a price, route or service.

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Tuesday, the justices appeared to be split on the issue, USA Today reported.

Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia said the main purpose of the law was to pre-empt suits such as Ginsberg's, the newspaper reported, and to avoid regulation of airlines by federal or state government.

Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked whether frequent flyer contracts are "illusory" if a carrier can kick out members "willy nilly," the report said.

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The justices should rule in the case sometime during the next several months.

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