Tardy passengers’ state common law “bumping” claims held preempted

Igwe v. Northwest Airlines, Inc. and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (S.D. Tex. Jan. 4, 2007).  Because the passengers failed to check in at the gate counter in a timely manner, KLM gave their seats to other passengers.  The passengers were “irate” and refused the airline’s offer of transportation on a later flight on a different airline (plus two $500 credit vouchers).  Instead, the passengers bought tickets on a different airline (on an even later flight).

The passengers filed a lawsuit in which they alleged an array of state common law causes of action.  In its summary judgment motion, KLM contended that these claims were preempted by the Montreal Convention because its Article 19 provides the exclusive remedy for delays in international air transportation.  The critical question was whether the passengers’ “bumping” claims were for contractual non-performance and thus not covered by the Convention (as the passengers argued) or for delay and thus covered by the Convention (as the airline argued).

When the “bumping” airline proves that the passenger refused the airline’s reasonable offer of alternative transportation, the passenger’s lawsuit begins to emit a “giant sucking sound.”  Hearing that sound, the court held that the passengers’ bumping claims were for delay, and thus preempted by the Convention, because the passengers had repudiated the airline’s effort to perform its contractual obligations.  The court also noted that even if the passengers’ claims were not preempted, they still failed because “[a]ll of [the passengers’] troubles were the direct result of their own tardiness.”  Accordingly, the court granted KLM’s summary judgment motion.

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