In Register v. United Airlines, Inc., a passenger sued United Airlines after becoming involved in a verbal altercation with a flight attendant prior to takeoff. Plaintiff alleged that another crewmember complained to the captain, who announced that the flight would return to the gate due to a “situation” on the aircraft. Plaintiff subsequently filed a number of state and federal claims alleging, among other things, that United had discriminated against him on account of his race. United moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that plaintiff’s state law claims were preempted by the Federal Aviation Act (the Act). The court agreed that the Act preempts state law claims when an air carrier removes a passenger for safety reasons. Plaintiff argued that safety was not implicated because the captain used the word “situation” during his announcement rather than “security threat” or other similar language. Calling plaintiff’s argument a “distinction without a difference,” the court held that it was not plausible to conclude that the captain did not consider the safety of passengers when he decided to return to the gate. Plaintiff’s state law claims were therefore preempted by the Act.
Justin V. Lee, Recent Developments In Aviation Law, 83 J. Air L. & Com. 193 (2018)