The skies are a lot friendlier for at least one passenger who got bumped off an overbooked flight.
Thatcher A. Stone, an aviation lawyer, was awarded $3,110 by a Manhattan judge for his expenses and inconvenience after he and his 13-year-old daughter were kept off a Continental Airlines flight at Newark Airport on Christmas Day 2004.
Stone said Tuesday that he and his daughter had planned a ski holiday in Telluride, Colo., during the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. When they arrived at the boarding gate, the Continental agent told him they didn't have seats, according to Stone.
The only option Continental offered was a flight departing the day before he and his daughter were scheduled to return, Stone said. And to make matters worse, he said, handlers had put their luggage on the plane and wouldn't take it off.
"We asked the gate agent to call downstairs and tell them to off-load our bags, but he wouldn't," Stone said. "All our winter clothes were in the luggage."
Stone said the airline refunded his $2,000 cost of the tickets at the airport. But because their baggage contained their winter clothes, he said, he made no other plans. After three days, he was able to pick up his luggage from Newark, he said.
"We went to Stratton, Vt., for one day," Stone said.
Stone said the ruined vacation was especially upsetting because he is divorced, his daughter lives with her mother, and his time with the girl is limited.
Stone, a Manhattan lawyer who also teaches at the University of Virginia, sued for financial losses, which included nonrefundable room deposits for the ski lodge, lift tickets and ski equipment rental, and for loss of use of the property in his luggage.
Manhattan Civil Court Judge Diane Lebedeff said federal law bars suits about an airline's general operations, but a passenger can sue for contract issues under state law if he bought a ticket, was denied boarding, refused the airline's compensation offer, and suffered damages.
Lebedeff awarded Stone $1,360 for his nonrefundable, pre-paid expenses, $1,000 for what she termed "inconvenience damages," and $750 for loss of the use of the contents of his luggage, all with interest from Dec. 25, 2004 - the date of the bumping.
The judge noted that Stone did not sue on behalf of his daughter.
Marie Jahnsen, the customer service manager who argued the Houston-based airline's case in Manhattan's Small Claims Court, said she could not comment on the case.
In her 13-page decision, Lebedeff cited a 2004 law review article and analysis stating 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.
News stories provided by third parties are not edited by "Site Publication" staff. For suggestions and comments, please click the Contact link at the bottom of this page.
The involuntary bumping rate last year was 1.01 in every 10,000 passengers -- that's a 15 percent increase from the 0.88 rate in 2005.
Airline officials say massive snowstorms are causing an unclaimed baggage jam at Denver International Airport.
Complaints about U.S. airlines have jumped more than 29 percent this year, according to the Department of Transportation, with big increases in canceled flights and baggage problems.
Federal aviation officials are investigating two recent mishaps at one of the nation's busiest airports after two airliners clipped wings on a taxiway and another jet landed in the wrong place.