The Death of Contracts: the Florida Gator Edition

A while ago, I argued that many people are forced to sign nonnegotiable contracts for services they can’t do without:

When you sign the terms of agreement for an internet provider, credit card company, or many other businesses, you are offered a take-it-or-leave-it contract. No negotiation is possible. And these contracts are often for nearly-essential services. Sure, you don’t need a credit card, an internet connection, or an email account, but it’s hard to function in 21st century America without these things.

These are often de facto monopolies (e.g., cable companies), or else you are offered a very limited number of options that really don’t differ that much (e.g., wireless providers). In a common law sense (and the last thirty years of neoliberal and conservative jurisprudence have essentially annihilated the notion of common law), a contract that you can’t negotiate for a service you basically can’t do without isn’t really a contract, it’s extortion. Worse, this unequal (one might use the word servile) relationship is often sanctioned by the government.

So, last week, passengers on a Delta flight (ExpressJet carrier) were removed from a Gainesville-Atlanta flight due to “mechanical problems.” Turns out that while they were forced to wait (and possibly miss connections in Atlanta, a major hub), the University of Florida basketball team was allowed to board and take off (boldface mine):

Delta Connection flight 5059, operated by ExpressJet, was supposed to go to Atlanta. Instead, the airline turned it into a charter flight for the team. Delta insisted that all passengers were “accommodated” but it seems to ignore that fact that these passengers paid to fly on flight 5059 and were delayed in their travels. One missed a funeral. Airlines continue to treat such itineraries as merely aspirational. So long as they get a passenger to a location, they insist that they have no liability or responsibility for the loss of hours, bad alternative seating or hassle. The passenger’s time is legally irrelevant.

…The last of the passengers on the Sunday flight did not leave until Monday. However, the airlines insisted it fulfilled its contract to get them where they wanted to go.

Airline lobbyists have been uniformly successful in blocking efforts in Congress to guarantee the rights of passengers. Average people remain a captive audience to airlines. I know of no other business that can routinely violate agreements or contracts and remain immune from liability.

If Congress does decide to something, no doubt the airlines will squeal about ‘regulation’ and the like. But you can’t claim common sense should rule when, at the same time, you ignore common law.

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