Airline Deregulation Act
The Airline Deregulation Act is an amendment to the Federal Aviation Act passed by President Jimmy Carter in 1978. This act was created to promote “an air transportation system which relies on competitive market forces to determine the quality, variety and price of air services.” It included a provision expressly preempting state and local laws relating to the pricing, routes or service of an air carrier.
The creation of the ADA essentially ended the [Civil Aeronautics Board] since the ADA provided federal preemption of aviation industry rates, routes and services.
A few cases exemplify how this law can affect aviation litigation. In Witty v. Delta Airlines, the plaintiffs’ claims alleged that the seating arrangement on the airlines’ planes offered too little legroom causing an increased risk of developing deep vein thrombosis, which is potentially fatal. In fact, the case of Witty v. Delta Airlines dealt with the wrongful death of a passenger from the condition. Plaintiffs called for a redesign of the seats, suggesting they be placed farther apart to allow for more legroom to help lower the risk of blood clots. But because more legroom would have resulted in fewer seats, airplanes wouldn’t be able to carry as many passengers, directly affecting ticket prices. For this reason, the suit was preempted and dismissed.
Witty dismissed the state law claims because they conflicted not only with the ADA, which barred states from imposing laws related to airline prices and services but also with the FARs, which specified the warnings that an airline must provide to passengers and required that passengers remain seated with their seat belts fastened during a flight.
Northwest v. Ginsburg was a Supreme Court case that held that a plaintiff’s claims arising from the revocation of a passenger’s frequent flier membership by the airline were also preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act.