A man has filed a class-action lawsuit in the state of Hawaii against United Airlines claiming that flight update text messages that are meant to keep customers informed and prevent them from missing a flight had drained his cell phone’s battery and invaded his privacy.
Riordan Pringle of Honolulu accuses United of “flagrant breaches of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act – a law that was passed more than 20 years ago in an attempt to prevent marketing companies from harassing customers with automatic dialers and recorded messages.
The law also applies to automated text messages such as the ones that United sent with information like check-in times, boarding notifications and gate changes. United has also used text messaging as part of its much-lauded ConnectionSaver program that helps passengers with tight connections make their next flight.
Earlier this month, ConnectionSaver helped save 2,100 connections in just one day as winter storms wreaked havoc across the United States. The tech works by automatically identifying customers with a tight connection who are booked on a flight that can be held for a few minutes without compromising an on-time arrival.
ConnectionSaver then sends out an automated text message to the customer telling them to hurry to their next departing gate and provides step by step directions so they don’t get lost along with the way.
Within the first few months of the system being introduced in 2019, United claims the text messages helped save 50,000 customers from missing their connections. It relies on customers either using the United mobile app or providing their cell phone number when they make a booking.
When you book a ticket with United and provide a cell phone number, the airline automatically starts sending messages with flight information. But in order to comply with the TCPA, United must also provide a way for customers to opt-out of receiving the messages.
United does this by asking customers to reply STOP to the same number that sends out the messages. The only problem, however, is that texting STOP doesn’t always work.
In fact, Riordan Pringle says he texted STOP in an attempt to prevent United from sending him any further text updates on at least four separate occasions. Pringle even received a message confirming he had opted out but the flight updates kept on coming.
The lawsuit claims that the barrage of messages sent without his consent was an invasion of Pringle’s privacy and that the messages were draining his cell phone’s battery. They also caused him aggravation and annoyance, and precious time was taken out of his day trying to make the messages stop.
United apparently knew full well that its opt-out system didn’t work properly and was an issue that was regularly discussed by frequent flyers. The airline had also previously been cited by the Federal Communication Commission for violations of the TCPA.
The lawsuit alleges: “United failed to take effective action to stop the violations, and chose to save on the costs of solving the problem at the expense of the privacy and frustration of its customers.”
In seeking a class-action suit, Pringle is asking for the court to consider allowing anyone else who tried to unsuccessfully opt of United’s text messages within the last four years to join the suit. His lawyers believe thousands of customers could be eligible to join the suit.
United has been contacted for comment.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.