ADA preempts father’s claims against airline for allowing son to travel without parental permission

Edwards v. Southwest Airlines Co. (S.D. Ohio Jan. 28, 2020).  As a ruse, the plaintiff’s 14-year-old son asked his grandfather to go to Starbucks to get him a Frappuccino, according to the complaint.  With his grandfather out of the house, the teen headed to the Columbus airport, intent on boarding a Southwest flight to New Orleans using a ticket his mother had purchased.  The teen’s father, who had been at work, learned of the situation, called the police and arrived at the airport before the flight departed but was unable to prevent his son from traveling.  The father alleged that, at the airport, he was arrested by the police and jailed overnight.

The father sued Southwest in an Ohio state court, alleging that the airline had a duty to require parental permission for his son to travel and asserting claims for intentional interference with parent-child relationship, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress based on its alleged breach of such duty.  Southwest removed the case to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction.  The airline then moved to dismiss the father’s claims as preempted by 49 U.S.C. § 41713(b)(1), the preemption provision of the Airline Deregulation Act, on the grounds that they related to its ticketing, check-in and boarding services.  In opposition, the father argued that his claims were not directed at Southwest’s services but at the safety of unaccompanied minors on its flights.

The court agreed with Southwest’s arguments, ruling that the “ticketing and boarding offered by Defendant falls under the definition of ‘services’ for the purposes of ADA preemption” and that the ADA preempted all the father’s claims because they “are predicated on the allegation that Defendant allowed Plaintiff’s son to board a flight with no parental supervision” and thus “arise from Defendant’s services.”  Accordingly, the court granted Southwest’s motion.  The court noted that its decision did not leave the father without any recourse, as he could petition DOT to investigate his claims.

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