The Northern District of Illinois recently granted defendant American Airlines’ motion to strike class allegations in a passenger’s breach of contract suit brought after American cancelled plaintiff’s flight reservation when he attempted to check in less than an hour before the scheduled departure time. The court found it was clear from the pleadings that plaintiff’s proposed nationwide class could not meet the predominance requirement of Rule 23(b)(3). In particular, the court concluded that even assuming a breach had occurred, proving the breach caused an injury would require individualized factual inquiries for each class member.
Plaintiff arrived at the Hong Kong airport 50 minutes before his flight was scheduled to depart for Dallas and attempted to check in with only carry-on luggage. That’s when he learned that American had cancelled his reservation because he was too late. American’s reservation contract with passengers includes a requirement that international passengers be at their departure gate 30 minutes before takeoff or else their reservation will be cancelled, but no similar rule exists concerning the time passengers must check in. Nonetheless, American enforces a policy under which it cancels reservations for passengers who fail to check in 60 minutes before flights departing from an international airport to a domestic airport. Plaintiff contended American breached its contract with him by refusing to allow travel on a ticketed flight based on “arbitrary” deadlines not specified in the contract. As a result of this unwritten policy, plaintiff had to re-book his reservation for a flight the next day and suffered out-of-pocket expenses.
Plaintiff proposed a nationwide 23(b)(3) class of persons who attempted to check in for such flights less than 60 minutes – but more than 30 minutes – before departure time. American moved to strike based on typicality, commonality, and predominance grounds. The court framed the liability question as whether a putative class member would have made it to his departure gate on time if American had issued a boarding pass at check in.
The court held that without class discovery it was unable to conclude plaintiff would not meet the typicality requirement. The court further presumed, without deciding, that plaintiff met the commonality requirement. As to predominance, the court focused on the injury causation element of the breach of contract claim. The court emphasized “the realities of modern airline travel” and detailed the numerous procedures a passenger must go through on the way to his departure gate, such as presentation of travel documents before security screening, the screening process itself, clearing customs and immigration, and finally walking to the departure gate. The amount of time these procedures would take is further influenced by the size of the airport, the length of the security line, and the physical fitness of the class member. The court concluded that plaintiff’s class allegations would fail to meet the predominance requirement because the existence of an injury could not be determined by common facts but instead would require individual, fact-intensive inquiries as to each class member.
Lucas Huddleston v. American Airlines, Inc., No. 1:16-cv-09100 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 2, 2018).