Last December, Southwest Airlines made headlines when it canceled thousands of flights, disrupting travelers’ holiday plans. Despite the airline industry being a keystone to national and global infrastructure, as well as consumer reliance on aviation transportation for long distance travel, the airline industry is consistently sued for alleged mistreatment of both customers and employees. Docket Alarm analytics show.
Ticket cancellations are so frequent within the airline industry that Democratic Senators have introduced a “passenger bill of rights,” which would require airlines to fully pay restitution to passengers who are denied boarding due to an oversold flight.
Docket Alarm analysis ranging from 2019 through 2022 of federal litigation faced by the four most frequently flying domestic airlines — American, United, Southwest, and Delta — reveals that not only is customer dissatisfaction (i.e., civil, tort, and personal injury) a majority of the lawsuits, but employee dissatisfaction is also a major contributor (i.e., civil rights related to jobs).
For all four airlines, the top case types are personal injury, airline personal injury, and jobs-related civil rights cases like wrongful termination or discrimination. The personal injury cases range from canceled tickets, to company negligence of customer disability needs, as well as actual physical injury – one case against American involved burn injuries from spilled airline food.
American Airlines has faced the most lawsuits among the major airlines from 2019 to 2022, with 483.
The four courts where American is sued the most are the Northern District of Texas, the Central District of California, the Southern District of Florida, and the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The company’s headquarters recently relocated from New York City to Fort Worth, Texas, in the Northern District of that state.
United was the runner-up in total federal litigation, with 380 filings from 2019 to 2022. The cases are centered in the Northern District of Illinois, where the airline is headquartered. Other top courts are the Northern District of California, the District of New Jersey, and the Central District of California.
Southwest has seen 174 new filings in federal court from January 2019 to December 2022. The company has faced a further nine federal suits in 2023, in the weeks following the travel outages that affected Southwest travelers the month before.
Like American, Southwest is headquartered in Dallas, Texas, and the Northern District of Texas is its top litigation hotspot.
Delta has been involved in only 93 lawsuits from 2019 to 2022. The Atlanta-based airline is sued most frequently in the Northern District of Georgia.
Just a small fraction of consumer complaints against airlines land in federal court. In the latest report published by the Department of Transportation, consumers filed 3,698 complaints with the agency in November 2022, more than doubling the prior year’s 1,505 complaints.