Airline not liable for customer’s travel-related misfortunes

Naqvi v. Saudi Arabian Airlines, Inc. (D.D.C. Feb. 12, 2016).  The plaintiff’s air travel originating at Washington Dulles International Airport included a connecting flight on Saudi Arabian Airlines from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to Islamabad, Pakistan.  Upon arriving at Jeddah, the plaintiff learned that the flight to Islamabad would be departing from a distant terminal, not the one indicated on his boarding pass, beginning what the court described as a series of “travel nuisances” for the plaintiff.

According to the plaintiff, airline personnel refused to arrange transportation for him to the departure terminal.  After making “unimaginable efforts” to locate an ATM in order to obtain Saudi currency and “paying multiple taxi charges,” the plaintiff was dropped off by a taxi “several hundred feet” from the departure terminal’s main entrance due to construction work in the vicinity.  The plaintiff, who had had “major cardiac surgery,” walked that distance carrying his luggage.  Upon arriving at the departure gate, the plaintiff searched for drinking water so he could take his diabetes medication, but none was available so he used water from a bathroom sink.  The plaintiff alleged that the bathroom was “unsanitary and nauseating.”  During the flight, the plaintiff “began to experience arm, neck, and leg pain.”  In Pakistan, the plaintiff sought treatment from a doctor, who diagnosed the plaintiff as having certain conditions resulting from “handling of heavy luggage at various airports.”

In his pro se complaint against Saudia, the plaintiff advanced causes of action for breach of the contract of carriage’s “implied term that Defendant shall provide services with reasonable care and skill” and negligence, demanding compensatory damages of $100,000.  Saudia removed the case to federal court and, after discovery, moved for summary judgment.

The court granted Saudia’s motion.  The court, applying Virginia law, ruled that the plaintiff’s implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing claim failed because the airline had not exercised its contractual discretion in bad faith, in that the airline did not have any control over the terminal change or the condition of terminal’s bathroom and did not have any duty to provide him with drinking water in the terminal.  The court ruled that the plaintiff’s negligence claim failed because the airline’s ordinary duty of care did not include notifying him of the terminal change, transporting him to the departure terminal, maintaining the bathroom in the terminal or providing him with drinking water there.

Saudia made a secondary argument that the plaintiff’s claims were preempted by the federal Airline Deregulation Act, but the court did not reach this argument.

Note:  The plaintiff had another case in the same court against another airline.


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