Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Business

Frequent flier hits United with lawsuit over merger

CHICAGO — A Chicago frequent flier is suing United Airlines for taking away some of his lifetime perks as a so-called Million Miler, someone who has flown 1 million miles with the airline.

George Lagen of Chicago claims United breached a contract with him when the airline combined its frequent-flier program with that of Continental Airlines after the airlines merged, according to a suit filed this week in U.S. District Court.

Lagen claims he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in becoming a Million Miler, which reaped such benefits as seating upgrades, early boarding privileges and bonus miles credited to his frequent-flier account. Million Milers had lifetime "premier executive" flying status, the second-highest level.

Under the new MileagePlus program, Million Milers belong to the third tier, called Premier Gold. "The result is a severe cut in benefits including fewer bonus miles for flights, a reduced chance of upgrades and lower priorities in boarding and seating assignments," the suit alleges.

For example, Million Milers now receive a 50 percent bonus on the miles they fly with United, instead of 100 percent, the suit says.

The suit notes a recent comment by John Rainey, United's new chief financial officer during an investor conference this month. Rainey said some members of the frequent-flier program were "over-entitled," a comment that drew customer ire on frequent-flier message boards.

United Airlines said in a statement, "We greatly value our Million Milers and are continuing to deliver valuable and highly competitive benefits with our lifetime program. One Million Milers receive benefits at the 50,000-mile premier status level — the same as before. We believe this suit is without merit."

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