Southwest Airlines Sued Over Early Bird Check-In

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Two California men filed a class action lawsuit against Southwest Airlines this week saying that they paid the $12.50 for Early Bird Check-In, yet others around them received better boarding positions.  The 38-page filing against Southwest Airlines is for “breach of contract, fraudulent concealment, intentional misrepresentations, negligent misrepresentations, breach of covenants of good faith and fair dealing, and its deceptive, and misleading business practices.”Screen Shot 2014-11-22 at 7.46.29 AMThe lawsuit claims that in August 2013 Plantiff Robert Zammetti purchased a “Wanna Get Away” fare for a flight from San Diego to Detroit. Zammetti paid the $12.50 add-on cost for Early Bird Check-In.  At the time of boarding, Zammetti identified numerous individuals that received a higher boarding position than he had received at the time of check in, and Zammetti says that others around him did not pay the add-on to receive priority boarding.

The second Plantiff, Micahel Lowry,  also purchased a “Wanna Get Away” fare in March 2014 on a flight from on  Los Angeles to Indianapolis.  Lowry also paid the $12.50 add-on cost for Early Bird Check-In and received a “B” boarding group assignment. Plaintiff Lowry also said he identified numerous individuals that received a higher boarding position than he had received at the time of check in without paying the add-on to receive priority boarding.

This all stems from Southwest Airlines sells 3 classes of fares: Business Select, Anytime Fares and Wanna Get Away fares.  Southwest Airlines checks in Business Select tickets 36 hours prior to departure, and protects boarding numbers A1 thru A15, allowing Business Select customers to board first.  According to the web site, Early Bird Check-In “Customers who have purchased Anytime Fares will receive priority over other fare types that are assigned their position based on the time stamp of the EarlyBird Check-In purchase.”
It’s that statement that seems to be at the heart of the issue for Plantiffs Zametti and Lowry – that airline’s published and unpublished boarding policies are contradictory, and selling Early Bird Check-In is deceptive, fraudulent, and misleading. Additionally that the airline doesn’t limit the number of Early Bird Check-Ins it sells per flight.
The class action suit seeks damages for all Southwest travelers who paid for tickets and Early Bird access on Southwest in the last four years of filing the complaint. The Plaintiffs estimated there are more than 10,000 in the class.
Interestingly, on page 9 of the lawsuit, it turns almost into a rant against Southwest’s marketing claim that “Bags Fly Free”

25. Furthermore, Defendant SOUTHWEST’S major advertising and marketing campaign/slogan is that on SOUTHWEST “BAGS FLY FREE”. This “BAGS FLY FREE” marketing slogan is directly responsible for Defendant SOUTHWEST’S market share in the airline industry. This is deceptive, fraudulent, and misleading by the very nature of the definition and connotation of the words. The bags do NOT fly free. In fact, SOUTHWEST “hides” the baggage fee and recovers their fuel-cost offset revenue under the guise of the deceptive “priority” “Early Bird” boarding program. Therefore, if these intentional misrepresentations, fraudulent concealments, and deceptive business practices were known to the public, then Defendant SOUTHWEST’S windfall of revenue would not exist. If customers were properly informed, as opposed to constructively and/or intentionally misled, they would NOT purchase the illusory “Early Bird” priority boarding add-on, and/or would NOT purchase a fare from Defendant SOUTHWEST.

26. Defendant SOUTHWEST uses this marketing slogan to entice customers to purchase tickets on DEFENDANT’S Airline. The reason that they do not charge their customers for checked bags is because they offset the added fuel cost of the checked baggage by the windfall of revenue generated from their intentional/negligent, fraudulent, deceptive, and misleading “Early Bird Check-in” scam of $25 per roundtrip flight. These intentional/negligent, fraudulent, deceptive and misleading policies, procedures, and practices of Defendant SOUTHWEST allow them to increase revenues at the expense of the general public and their competitors.

Bottom Line:
The question seems to be is if Southwest is charging you for the service of checking a passenger in for a flight at a pre-determined time, or if Southwest is selling a guarantee of boarding ahead of other passengers.  I’m wondering how much merit this law suit has, and interested to see how far it will make it in the courts.  Any guesses?
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  1. I think an even bigger early-bird problem is on connecting flights with 30 minute turnover times in big airports. Good luck getting your assigned early-bird boarding spot when boarding has commenced before you’re even off the first plane.You’re lucky if you make your flight!

  2. This happened to me earlier this year. I bought early bird and my girlfriend checked in 3 hours before our flight. She had a higher priority.

  3. It is sad that consumers have to file a lawsuit to receive fair treatment. If you file a complaint with the airline it gets you nowhere. Corporate greed is their controlling interest.

  4. The cost of this pointless lawsuit is just going to cost customers. It’s early bird check in, not early boarding. You still get a better boarding pass than if you had waited until you got to the airport. Sometimes if an early boarding pass gets cancelled a person checking in late will get that spot. Connecting flights also get checked in a lot earlier since they don’t have to wait for the 24 hour mark.

    The whole “bags fly free” argument makes the lawsuit sound like an amateur blog post. Bags don’t fly free because Southwest sells optional services? Maybe I should bring a lawsuit claiming that since I have to pay for alcohol, those flight changes aren’t really free.

  5. According to Southwest, you can save seats once you are on the plane. This is from an official Southwest communication that I just received. “It is not uncommon for our Customers to save a seat (or seats) for a friend, family member, or associate in a later boarding group so they can enjoy each other’s company. We don’t have a policy regarding saving seats, and it is acceptable for a Customer to “claim” a seat for someone as long as the boarding process is not delayed and other Customers aren’t inconvenienced.” Doesn’t matter how or when you go on, you can save seats. So when paying for Early Bird keep in mind that the seat you get will depend on how many people are in front of you when boarding for what ever reason and how many seats they save.

  6. I want to be part of this civil suit! I just went through the same thing with them!!!! What a scam!

  7. I am really ticked off about the Early Bird so called check in. I got my ticket and added wheelchair then found that wheelchairs go in first. I had already paid $30 for both ways. I asked for my money back and then said you only have 24 hours for refund. How ridiculous. On top of that I didn’t get in the top bunch after all i still got in the B section. What a rip off.

    Sylvia White

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