N.J. woman files class action against airline after not being able to use purchased in-flight television service

By Jessica M. Karmasek | May 11, 2015

NEWARK, N.J. (Legal Newsline) - A New Jersey woman has filed a proposed class action lawsuit against United Airlines, alleging that the airline failed to inform her after she bought in-flight television service that it would be inoperable for most of her flight.


Cary M. David, of West Orange, filed her lawsuit against Chicago-based defendants United Continental Holdings Inc. and United Airlines Inc. in March.


David filed her lawsuit on behalf of a nationwide class and a New Jersey sub-class under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and state contract law.

She argues that United fails to disclose to passengers who purchase DirecTV and/or WiFi on board planes equipped with a satellite connection that outside the continental United States, the service will not work.


The airline started to offer in-flight DirecTV and WiFi in 2012. The services, streamed to United’s aircraft via satellite, are now offered on hundreds of United planes.


In order to use the service, consumers must pay a fee. According to David’s complaint, for flights two hours in duration or shorter, the fee for DirecTV is $4.99. For flights more than two hours, the fee is $7.99. The fee for WiFi service ranges from $4.95 to $49.00, depending on the type of device used -- smartphone or computer -- and the duration of the flight.


However, the service only works when a plane is flying over the continental United States.


“Despite this known limitation, United sells these services to passengers on the flights and fails to disclose that the services will not work as advertised when the aircraft is outside the continental United States or is over water,” according to David’s 16-page complaint.


“It is not until they have crossed U.S. borders or are over water, with no service, that customers learn that their DirecTV and/or WiFi service will not work for all or part of the flight.”


David said she purchased in-flight DirecTV service with her credit card on Feb. 21 on a flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Newark.


“At no time before or during the process of purchasing DirecTV service was Plaintiff informed that the DirecTV service Plaintiff purchased would not work during the flight,” lawyers for David wrote.


“Because materially all of Plaintiff’s flight was over water and/or outside of the continental United States, Plaintiff was unable to use the service from the time of purchase until shortly before the flight landed in New Jersey.


“For a flight of over 4 hours, Plaintiff was able to use DirecTV for approximately 10 minutes.”


David is represented by Englewood Cliffs law firm Gardy & Notis LLP.


She is seeking class certification, compensatory damages, treble damages under the state’s Consumer Fraud Act and liquidated damages under other state consumer fraud laws, an order permanently enjoining United from engaging in such “unlawful practices” and an award of attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses.


United, in a motion filed earlier this month, said it plans to ask Judge Susan Wigenton, who is presiding over the case, to dismiss the lawsuit at a June 1 hearing.


The airline contends David’s lawsuit lacks any legal basis and her entire complaint is “based on a false premise.”


“Specifically, United tells its on-board passengers before they confirm their purchase that ‘Live DirecTV programming is not available while the aircraft is outside of the continental United States’ and that ‘Wi-Fi service is available over the continental United States,’” lawyers for United wrote in a May 1 memorandum.


“Plaintiff cannot avoid dismissal of her claims by failing to attach or quote in full these dispositive documents, which may properly be considered by this court in ruling on United’s motion to dismiss.”


Peter Van Deventer Jr. of LeClairRyan’s Newark office is representing the airline in the matter.


From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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