Even on the days where I’m exhausted after a long business trip, the thought of being able to fly anywhere I want, anytime I want in first class for the rest of my life is pretty appealing. That’s the story of the lifetime AAirpass that American Airlines sold when I was much younger. I have yet to meet someone who purchased one of these gems. However, my friend John M sent me an enthralling story about someone who purchased one, and lost it.
Losing Your AAirpass Flying Privileges
How do you lose such a privilege? It’s not like you can misplace the card or lose your wallet. No, you need to break the rules enough to lose in court. Or, if you look at the more cynical side of things, do just enough to give American Airlines an excuse to break a contract they hate being a part of.
A recent article by Caroline Rothstein tells the story of her father, Steven. How he purchased the AAirpass back in the 80s with the dream of unlimited flying in first class. And, how after many years, according to him, American Airlines found a loophole to revoke his pass.
In 1987, amidst a lucrative year as a Bear Stearns stockbroker, my father became one of only a few dozen people on earth to purchase an unlimited, lifetime AAirpass. A quarter of a million dollars gave him access to fly first class anywhere in the world on American for the rest of his life. He flew so much it paid for itself. Often he’d leave in the morning for a business trip, fly back, and I hadn’t even known he’d left. Other times, I remember calling his office to find out what country he was in. He (and our whole family) was featured on NBC’s Today Show in 2003, and then on MSNBC in 2006. For 20 years, he was one of American’s top fliers, accumulating more than 30 million miles, which he acquired every time he flew, even with the AAirpass.
It might seem like a story of a court battle. But, the author unwraps a story of personal loss. She tells the story of losing her brother and how it affected her father. And, how he ultimately relied on lifelong friends at American Airlines to comfort him while he grieved:
“When everyone was asleep in the house,” he tells me, “and I had nobody to talk to, and I was lonely about Josh’s death, I would telephone American Airlines reservations and speak to the agents about who knows what for an hour and then at the end, they’d ask me, oh what reservation was I calling about to make, and I would say, ‘Oh yeah I need to go to San Francisco next week.’ I really didn’t need to go to San Francisco. I was just very confused and very lonely and I was calling American Airlines because they were logical people for me to speak to. They knew me. I knew them. I knew their names. I knew their lives.
Some folks have reported problems reading the full article via this link. I can’t republish it without violating copyright rules. I’ve checked it again and I can see the full article, including the resolution. I’ve also added a summary here:
Ultimately, Rothstein sued American Airlines for damages and lost. American countersued him, it got ugly. It stretched on for years, ultimately ending when American Airlines bankruptcy ended. The part of the story that frustrates me the most is that American doesn’t seem to have ever warned him that the behavior was bad. They helped him book reservations for years using methods they later determined were fraudulent.
If they really wanted him to stop the behavior, I believe they would have warned him. Instead, they terminated the contract after many years of the behavior. To me, that points more to American’s desire to terminate the contract than to get compliance from Rothstein.
The Final Two Pennies
This story fascinates me. It’s the story of a family where travel was such an integral part of their lives. I feel the same about my family, though without the luck of a lifetime pass to jet wherever I want, whenever I want. Whether you find Steven Rothstein right or wrong, the story is worth your time. It’s much more a story about travel, and how it brings us together, then how a lawsuit tears it apart.
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