United Airlines Faces Age Discrimination Lawsuit Over Youth Discount

Filed Under: United

United Airlines is facing a discrimination lawsuit for a promotion it ran offering discounts for 18-22 year olds.

United Airlines offered discount to 18-22 year olds

In September 2019, United Airlines introduced a 10% discount for travelers aged 18-22:

  • This requires booking through United Airlines’ app, and requires being a MileagePlus member
  • It’s valid for travel through December 31, 2020
  • It only applies for flights within North America that originate in the US

United Airlines accused of age discrimination

The Chicago Tribune reports that a lawsuit has been filed against United Airlines regarding the promotion for 18-22 year olds, alleging age discrimination.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in the US District Court for the Southern District of California:

  • It’s alleged that this violates California’s anti-discrimination laws
  • The suit seeks class action status on behalf of customers who have been excluded from this promotion
  • The suit seeks at least $5 million in damages
  • The plaintiffs are a 23 year old and 67 year old from California
  • United claims that the promotion was intended to make travel more available to younger people who are either in college or just starting their career
  • The lawsuit claims that this policy goes against United’s mission statement of diversity and inclusion, calling it “mere virtue signaling” and “woke-worded”

In a statement, a United Airlines spokesperson said the following about the lawsuit:

“It is a shame that a few individuals take issue with an offer that is intended to make travel more accessible to more people. We believe this lawsuit is completely baseless and will defend ourselves vigorously.”

Is there any merit to this lawsuit?

I’m obviously no lawyer, so take what I say with a grain of salt here.

California does indeed have a law banning discrimination by businesses, which reads as follows (this has been expanded to include age through court cases):

“All persons within the jurisdiction of this state are free and equal, and no matter what their sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, or sexual orientation are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.”

Based on doing some Googling, there was a court case a couple of years back where Tinder charged less for its premium services for those under 30. Tinder’s logic was that younger people weren’t willing to pay as much and needed a lower price to pull the trigger.

The court ended up ruling against Tinder, arguing that this was age discrimination.

I guess I’d also ask whether any businesses in California still offer senior discounts? I know some national chains offer discounts to seniors in “participating locations,” so I’d wonder if California locations are among those.

Bottom line

United Airlines is facing a lawsuit over offering a discount to those aged 18-22 who were MileagePlus members and booked through the United app. The argument is that this violates California’s anti-discrimination laws, which don’t allow businesses to discriminate on the basis of age (among other factors). I’ll be curious to see what comes of this case.

On the one hand, the plaintiffs may technically have a case, based on some past rulings. This does in fact seem to be discrimination based on age.

On the other hand, for whatever reason I just can’t bring myself to view this the same way as discrimination based on other factors. I don’t think I have any issues with discounts for children or seniors, for example, because I recognize it’s a way to drum up business.

Maybe I’m just looking at it wrong, but I just have a hard time viewing a youth discount the same as charging different amounts based on race, etc.

What do you make of this United Airlines age discrimination lawsuit? I’d be especially curious to hear from lawyers!

Comments
  1. Just as with pregnancy, you can’t have a bit of equality. You either have it or you don’t.

    So, do you want equality or not?

  2. Not to name a major metropolitan US city, where the city contracted a firm to install public toilettes downtown streets. The ones you see in Europe cities that cleans itself after each use. After studies, it was determined that due to sidewalk size constraints, the number of required handicap accessible units can’t be installed and the ACLU sued the city for discrimination, therefore the project was scrapped and people continue peeing on city walls and poop in parking staircases.

  3. So then no senior citizen discounts, no military discounts, no discounts for AAA members. There should be no discounts for people who buy 14 days in advance and absolutely no child fares. Indeed, we should all pay full fare, right?

  4. All public transit agencies are required under Federal law to offer half-fares (or lower) to seniors (and people with disabilities) during off-peak times (most agencies just offer the discounts at all times), could there be a class action lawsuit to public transit agencies based on this state law, although they are offering half-fares to comply with federal rules?

  5. So airlines cannot offer discounts due to age, meanwhile public transit and restaurants are still okay to offer seniors discounts? Why do I as a poor working class 24 year old have to pay more for my bus trip and avocado toast, than a boomer? That is age discrimination as well, but you don’t see us complaining about it.

  6. Lawyer here. I read the Tinder case. It’s kind of a jumble with lots of conflicting language from prior cases but ultimately United could have an issue. The Tinder case completely eviscerated the idea that a general notion (even based on research) that one group has less financial means than another allows a discount. They will have to find (and may be able to) some legislative accommodation or recognition of the age group at issue. I think they will have a problem because the type of thing that would catch folks in that age range is usually tied to college enrollment. If they’d made the age 24 to coincide with the max age to be claimed as a dependent that might’ve worked but that is still tied to college. TLDR they have a problem but perhaps not an inescapable one.

  7. I think spirit or American used to do this back in the day. They would let people under a certain age do standby for a really cheap flight. I forgot exactly what the deal was but I remember taking advantage of it in college in like 2008.

  8. The movie theatre charging patterns come to mind. Youth and children discounts, student discounts, senior discounts, etc. I can’t imagine the legal staff of UA is too worried about this.

    The airlines lead the world in instituting pricing policies that discriminate across all groups. Ask random passengers on any long haul flight what they paid for their ticket and the disparity is extreme. Back in my US Air days ten years ago while living in Zurich I noticed that airfares originating in Europe back to the US were routinely 40% less across the board in all cabins. I once asked a US Air customer service representative why this discrepancy existed and she said that Europeans earn less money and the tickets are priced for that market. Seemed strange to me given that the average Swiss citizen living in Zurich appeared to have a lot more discretionary income than the average American. In any event, I was quite happy to get those massive discounts during the two years I lived there and came to resent the mark up after I moved back to the USA.

  9. You’d have to then take away senior citizen discounts. Those aged 18-22 are almost universally poor, especially nowadays (and usually mired in debt by the time they reach 22), so they are probably even more deserving of discounts than senior citizens.

  10. Premier Gold and college freshman here. This promotion actually worked for UA. My friends and I all leveraged this discount to buy flights to and from campus this year. Furthermore, many of my friends were first time UA customers, meaning that they all opened MP accounts and some may apply for the Visa cards. Seemed like a great way for UA to garner business from a young generation that they could potentially convert to lifetime customers. It would be a shame to lose this discount.

  11. Is finding ways to sue someone taught or are Americans born with this trait? My thinking is it is related to the pathetic educational system. You simply find you can’t make it in the world so you find ways to take what others have. Then scream that socialism is the antichrist.

  12. The suit is quite valid as it is age discrimination.

    That said, it’d be quite easy for United to rearrange things to offer a similar promotion in future if they wish without breaking the law.

  13. United blew it by not offering the discount to everyone – no matter their age.

    Regarding the author’s comment, “I don’t think I have any issues with discounts for children or seniors, for example, because I recognize it’s a way to drum up business,” imagine the mischief that rationalization or alleged justification would cause if discrimination by a business against consumers based on the consumers’ age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or any of the myriad of personal characteristics protected by California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act could be legally justified by the discriminating, black-hating, gay-hating, or Jew-hating business because “it’s a way to drum up business.” That’s an obviously absurd justification that fortunately has been repeatedly rejected by California’s courts, including the California Supreme Court.

  14. Child and senior discounts should be entered in the lawsuit. Businesses just can’t seems to offer Promotions.

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