Saturday, June 07, 2014

Couple Said Granada, Airline Said Grenada: Courthouse News Service

Courthouse News Service
June 06, 2014
Last Update: 3:46 PM PT

(CN) - Although British Airways allegedly blundered by sending them to the Caribbean instead of Spain, a D.C. couple can at least fight the airline in their preferred court, a federal judge ruled.

The whimsical decision by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg calls the case proof of Mark Twain's adage that the "difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."

"Plaintiffs Edward Gamson and Lowell Canaday were set to fly first class from Washington through London to Granada, Spain, for some much-needed relaxation," Boasberg wrote. "Defendant British Airways, perhaps believing a Caribbean vacation preferable, instead booked the last leg of the trip to Grenada, in the West Indies."

It was supposed to be their first vacation in two years, the couple says.

"The couple only realized the error after departing London, probably somewhere over the North Atlantic," the eight-page opinion states. "Although they eventually returned safely to Washington, they had missed out on their planned Spanish trip."

Gamson said in a telephone interview that he specifically chose Granada, and not Grenada, as their destination to connect with his Jewish heritage and ancestry at the site of the 1492 purges. His longstanding interest in Islamic art, culture and architecture also made him want to see sites like the Alhamdra fortress, he added.

"In this case, this was [meant to be] a lifetime treat," he said.

Since their tickets did not list the country, airport code or flight duration, the couple did not realize the airline's mistake until they noticed map of their flight heading west, Gamson said.

"After arriving in the sunny Caribbean, as opposed to sunny Andalusia, [the couple] learned that British Airways had made this error before," the opinion states.

 Explaining this part of the ruling, Gamson said that a customer service agent told them: "Yeah, we're familiar with this. We've had cases like this."

Gamson said another ground crew member exclaimed earlier: "Not another one of these! We had another one of these happen last week."

 He said he later learned the identity of the other redirected traveler, 62-year-old Lamenda Kingdon, by reading her story in a BBC report dated Oct. 28, 2013.

BBC said Kingdon planned her trip after being diagnosed with cancer and also wanted to see the Alhamdra, which she put on her "bucket list."

British Airways subsidiary Avios eventually reimbursed her, gave her additional points, and sent her to her intended destination, the BBC reported.

 By contrast, Gamson said that he and his partner suffered "extremely inappropriate behavior from British Airways."

The couple sued the airline pro se for negligence and breach of contract in D.C. Superior Court.

British Airways fought, and initially succeeded, in transferring the lawsuit to federal court, arguing that the Montreal Conventions protected it from certain claims involving international air travel.

Gamson, a dentist who says he has never been involved in a lawsuit before now, studied similar federal court cases to prepare his arguments on his own behalf. He said he believes airlines regularly cite the Montreal Convention to skirt liability on procedural grounds.

"All I know is it's legally irresponsible," he said. "It's avoiding."

Judge Boasberg transferred the case back to the couple's original judicial destination Thursday.

His ruling notes that the Montreal Convention only relates to damages stemming from "the carriage of passengers," and not in their "booking."

Gamson, who said he learned of the ruling from Courthouse News, called the development "wonderful news."

An attorney for British Airways did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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