Airplanes / Aviation, Lawsuit of the Day, Pro Se Litigants, Racism, Travel / Vacation

Lawsuit of the Day: Nightmare Vacation for Rich ‘Honkeys’

Don’t you just hate it when rude and inefficient airline administrators ruin your vacation by stranding you on the ski leg of your vacation in Aspen, causing you to almost miss your cruise leaving out of Florida? It’s so annoying to have to stay in a series of luxury hotels across the country because the airline industry can’t get its act together.

I’m doing a silly parody of rich people problems, but honestly, if I have to choose between well-offf Americans and the fools and crooks who run the airline industry, I’m going to throw my lot in with the rich people every time. Especially when some employees are allegedly hurling racial insults at them.

It was a wild holiday vacation for the the Shulick family of Philadelphia. Luckily, patriarch David Shulick is a lawyer, so he knows that when the airlines push you around, you can sue….

David Shulick is suing sued United Airlines and USAir for canceling his flights, having crappy customer service, and generally doing all the things the airlines do their customers that most of us just have to accept. Like so many travelers, the Shulicks had their plans destroyed by the great Christmas blizzard of 2010.

UPDATE (8:50 PM): Judge Gene E. K. Pratter (E.D. Pa.) dismissied David Shulick’s pro se complaint on February 2. From Judge Pratter’s opinion:

The Shulicks purchased round-trip tickets from United for a flight leaving Philadelphia for Aspen, on December 21, 2010, with a return flight on December 26, 2010. They also purchased tickets from USAir for a flight from Philadelphia to Orlando on December 29, 2010, returning January 3, 2011. On December 25, 2010, while the Shulicks were in Aspen, United canceled the Shulicks’ return flight from Aspen for the next day due to extreme weather conditions in the eastern part of the country, including in and around Philadelphia. For several hours after receiving notice of the cancellation, the Shulicks allege they were unable to reach United’s customer service representatives by telephone or internet to re-book a flight to Philadelphia. They then elected a different course. Because their hotel in Aspen was fully booked after December 26th, the Shulicks decided to rent a car. They then drove from Aspen to the airport in Denver, Colorado. Their idea was to speak in person with airline ticketing agents, with a view toward trying to find a flight to Philadelphia that had not been canceled by the weather emergency.

The Shulicks allege that following their drive they were unable to get in-person help at the airport and were directed instead to contact the websites and toll-free telephone numbers of the defendant airlines, which they allege were not working or at least not responsive to their needs. Consequently, the Shulicks rented a hotel room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Denver on December 26th, and continued to try to book a return flight via the internet. Unfortunately, United’s website “crashed” due to the volume of customers attempting to access the airline’s rebooking services, and it remained non-functional for perhaps as long as 36 hours. Eventually, as the weather emergency in the eastern United States seemed to abate, the Shulicks booked a flight via the internet for December 28, 2010. However, because that December 28th flight would arrive in Philadelphia after midnight, i.e., in the early hours of December 29th, and their flight to Orlando would depart that same morning of December 29th, leaving the Shulicks little time to sleep or pack for their warm weather holiday cruise, they continued to try to book an earlier flight.

From there, the Shulicks endured a series of nights at Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton hotels across the nation. It wasn’t until the Shulicks got to New Orleans that they were made to understand what real persecution feels like:

At the New Orleans airport, the Shulicks were at first unable to retrieve their checked baggage, in which they had packed their children’s medication. The Shulicks allege that in New Orleans, the United baggage agent, an African-American woman, from whom the Shulicks (who are Caucasian) sought baggage retrieval assistance, behaved in a discriminatory fashion toward Cherie Shulick, calling her a “honkey,” laughing at her and harassing the family, and refusing to help locate their baggage. During this contretemps, the United baggage agent called a New Orleans Police officer to support her in confronting Cherie Shulick. While this was occurring, David Shulick was videotaping his wife’s encounter with the baggage agent (Mr. Shulick later sent the videotape to United’s corporate headquarters, demanding that the New Orleans baggage employee be terminated or, at least, formally reprimanded).1 Ultimately, a porter at the New Orleans airport helped the Shulicks retrieve their checked baggage. The Shulicks then rented a car at the airport, drove into the city, and stayed overnight at a hotel.

FN1 The Shulicks further allege that they were told by a Transportation Security Administration employee and a USAir employee in the New Orleans airport that the United baggage agent in question had a history of discriminatory conduct towards Caucasian customers.

The Shulicks aren’t honkeys. They have black friends. Famous black friends.

Honestly, I don’t even think the airline industry sees “color,” all they see are powerless people who can be f***ed.

The Shulicks ended up flying from New Orleans to Orlando to make their cruise. But even on the way back, the airlines allegedly messed with them:

Smooth sailing was short lived. While the Shulicks were aboard the cruise, defendant USAir cancelled the January 3, 2011 return flight from Orlando to Philadelphia. The Shulicks again spent time on telephone “hold” with USAir agents while re-booking the flight. They were unable to sit with their children on the re-booked return flight to Philadelphia.

Well, I’m not surprised by allegations of US Airways messing things up. I bet Lat isn’t either.

The bottom line is that nobody should really have to go through this. Airlines can talk all they want about “acts of God,” but if you’ve ever been through a canceled flight, it’s goddamn terrible. The airlines couldn’t be more unhelpful in those situations.

But I don’t know if the airlines are legally liable for acting like airlines.

Shulick v. United Airlines and USAir [U.S. District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania: PDF]

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