TACKLING THE SMALL
CLAIMS PROCESS
Part 1: What You Should Know Before Filing In Small Claims Court
Part 2: Breaking Through The Red Tape: Filling Out Small Claims Forms
Part 3: Making The Most Of Your Day In Court
PICKING THE RIGHT STATE FOR YOUR CLAIM
SAMPLE SMALL CLAIMS FORMS
GLOSSARY
RESOURCES
MESSAGE BOARD
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Common Complaints Against Airlines

Air travel is tiring enough without being used and abused by the airlines. If you suffered an indignity at the hands of an airline don't get mad or feel helpless, send a clear message this behavior will not be tolerated. Take your beef to Small Claims Court. With minimal cost, whether successful or not, you will come out a winner. Typically an airline will hire attorneys to prepare the case with costs exceeding $1,000 per claim in legal fees. While litigation should never be your first option, if you believe you have a legitimate claim, it is a viable avenue when all other options fail. Even if you lose the battle you can still win the war by making your point to the airline.

Accident/Injury

If you suffered a personal injury on a flight you should consult an attorney and explore filing your claim in Superior or District Court. In most cases your case will require formal discovery and necessitate the use of witnesses, including expert witnesses to prove your damages. These issues will be too complex to be heard in Small Claims Court and, if you tried to file in Small Claims, a motion to transfer would likely be granted. In fact in most states claims for negligence can't be heard in Small Claims. For domestic flights various state and/or federal laws may apply. If any leg of your flight is international the Warsaw Convention and Montreal Convention will apply as controlling law regarding injury while in flight.

Bumped Oversold Flight

While overbooking is frustrating, it's not illegal. Per DOT Part 250: a domestic air carrier can overbook as long as passengers are asked to voluntarily relinquish their seat for negotiated compensation. The airline has carte blanched to negotiate. So remember, unless the airline breaches the agreement or commits malfeasance you are stuck with your deal for better or worse. If you are involuntarily bumped the airline owes you denied boarding compensation within specified limits defined by DOT unless you fall within certain exceptions. If the airline refuses to pay the proper amount or your costs exceed the required limits you may want to consider Small Claims Court as a viable option in lieu of Superior or District Court.

Delayed/Cancelled Flight

When an airline fails to deliver you to your final destination on time a breach of contract occurs. The length of time, nature of the delay and the airline's efforts to remedy the situation will determine if you have a cause of action and whether your best course is to sue in Small Claims Court or Superior/District Court. An airline is responsible for any delay caused within its control. An airline is not responsible for events outside its control--Acts of God or force-majeure. The air carrier, however, must show there is a causal connection between the uncontrollable event and its failure to provide timely air transportation. And, the airline must prove it acted reasonably to reinstitute service once the event has passed.

Disabilities

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) is federal legislation designed to ensure that disabled travelers have equal opportunity to safely enjoy their flight. Disability lawsuits often involve a request for injunctive relief, pain and suffering and may include demand for punitive damages to punish the airline for egregious behavior. These types of claims are not heard in Small Claims Court. Consult an attorney in your jurisdiction as some courts don't recognize a private ACAA action. Always notify DOT about any disability discrimination by an air carrier as DOT will not take action until there is a significant aggrieved representative class.

Discrimination

If your complaint involves discrimination you should consult an attorney. You may or may not have a viable claim depending on the case law in your state. There may be jurisdictional conflicts in the interpretation of law that will make filing in another proper venue better. You should file your case in Superior or District Court. Your claim will most likely exceed Small Claims Court jurisdictional limits. You may want to include an injunction in your claim to prevent the airline from future similar acts. You can't sue for an injunction in small claims. If the discrimination is widespread you may consider a class action.

Incorrect Fares

If there is a discrepancy in the airfare price, i.e. you were overcharged, and you can show that this error or willful deception occurred you are entitled to the difference in the ticket. As the difference in the ticket will be within most jurisdictional maximum limits, Small Claims Court is a good option. You should also report the incident to the appropriate authorities for criminal action if fraud has occurred as well as relevant federal agencies and consumer report groups.

Lost/Damaged Luggage

On domestic flights the air carrier's General Carriage of Service Terms generally limit liability to $2,500 per passenger unless additional insurance was purchased. If an international flight, under the Warsaw Convention and Montreal Convention the liability limit would be $9.07 per pound with a total limit of $640 for a maximum of 70 pounds of luggage. Carryon luggage is limited to $400 per person for international flights. In addition, the air carrier may only pay the depreciated value of the item or portion of replacement cost if the damaged item can still be used to some extent. Most disputes will fall below the maximum limit in most states so Small Claims Court is your best option.

Mileage Issues

If you have an average frequent-flyer plan that earns free trips, upgrades, etc. the airline in the terms of the plan will reserve the right to make changes to the program at any time. Therefore your miles if unused could be forfeit, have restrictive dates, or service discontinued. In this case you do not have a claim. If however, you have exercised the miles that have been accepted by the airline and the airline fails to deliver you may have a claim. If you have a premium program that requires a specific number of flights per year or an annual renewal fee, you may have a breach of contract claim. In any case, Small Claims Court would be the appropriate venue.

Missed Connection Due to Delay

If you miss your connection due to delay caused by the airline or misinformation provided by an airline employee Small Claim Court is the best avenue to reclaim your expenses as long as your damages do not exceed the maximum jurisdictional limit. If the delay is due to an act beyond the control of the airline, such as weather, the airline will not be responsible if it can affirmatively show there is a causal connection between the uncontrollable event and its failure to arrive on time for your connecting flight. And, the airline must prove it acted reasonably to assist you in making your connection. You will want to review the Warsaw Convention and Montreal Convention for more information regarding international flights.

No Refreshments or Hotel

Generally a domestic air carrier will not be required to provide refreshments during a reasonable delay or a delay due to weather. An airline is not required to provide hotel arrangements, if a flight is cancelled due to Acts of God or force-majeure. If the delay or cancellation is caused by the airline and the delay is significant Small Claims Court is a viable option to recoup your expenses due to the inconvenience caused. The delay must be based upon an airline-induced event and the action or omissions by the airline must be sufficient to show the airline acted in an unreasonable manner. Look for upcoming EU legislation regarding air travel rights in Europe soon.

Denied Boarding

You may be able to file in Small Claims Court if you are only claiming monetary damages. You may be denied boarding if you 1) refuse to submit to a security search of person or property; 2) refuse to give or don't have proper identification; 3) your conduct is disorderly, abusive or violent; 4) are barefoot, can't fasten the seatbelt, intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, interfering with any member of the flight crew; or have a concealed or unconcealed deadly or dangerous weapon. If you are requesting pain and suffering, punitive damages or bringing a civil rights, disability or other similar claim you should consult an attorney and file your claim in Superior or District Court.

Pets

While we may think of our pets as one of the family, both domestic and international law, categorizes pets as luggage for purposes of air travel. Any death or injury to a pet during air travel is subject to the limits and liability placed upon damaged and lost luggage. There may be exceptions for insured animals where there are foreseeable damages. Small Claims Court will be the best course of action. You may also consider filing criminal charges for cruelty to animals or an injunction in civil court. Consult an attorney regarding relevant law in your jurisdiction. You can also contact American Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animails (A.S.P.C.A), Education, Dept. 424, E. 92nd St., New York, NY 1012 to report the airline for abuse.

Reservation/Ticketing

Once you have a confirmed reservation, you are confirmed on the flight even if there is no record of your reservation in the airline's computer system. If you have a ticket that shows a confirmed reservation for a specific flight and date, an agent cannot deny you boarding because you have no reservation in the computer. If you check-in late or are a "no-show" your seat may be given to someone else and you will have no legal recourse. If you lose your ticket you will need a credit card stub or some other document with the ticket number showing that you in fact purchased a ticket. You will likely have to purchase a new ticket but you should be able to recoup the difference between the value of the lost ticket and the replacement. Small Claims Court in these cases is a good option to consider.