(Reuters) - Southwest Airlines Co was sued by an Illinois man over the discount carrier’s decision to stop honoring coupons for free alcoholic drinks, which it had given to select travelers and which lacked expiration dates.
The plaintiff Adam Levitt said Southwest had for years awarded customers like him, who bought tickets through its premium-priced “Business Select” program, hundreds of thousands of coupons for the drinks, which would otherwise cost $5 each.
But on August 1, 2010, Southwest changed its policy, and said Business Select passengers may use their coupons only on the day of travel printed on them. Some other passengers were given more time.
“In an industry where the competition is always knocking (or banging) on the door and where watching the bottom-line is more important than ever, we owe it to our employees, customers, and shareholders to find ways to operate smarter,” Mike Hafner, vice president of cabin services, wrote on a company blog.
Levitt, who lives in the Chicago area, said the policy change amounted to a breach of contract. He attached to his complaint copies of 45 coupons for free drinks, which he said he had accumulated and which the change left worthless.
“Southwest decided that it would make more money -- improve its ‘bottom-line’ -- by choosing not to honor the coupons that consumers had already paid and bargained for,” said the complaint filed on Wednesday in Chicago federal court.
The lawsuit seeks class-action status for Southwest customers in the United States with unredeemed drink coupons. It seeks compensatory damages and other remedies.
Southwest had no immediate comment. A lawyer for Levitt did not immediately return a call seeking a comment.
U.S. carriers are reducing services and cutting expenses as fuel costs rise and an uncertain economy threatens to reduce demand for travel. Southwest, based in Dallas, has long been among the healthiest major U.S. carriers financially.
The case is Levitt v. Southwest Airlines Co, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, No. 11-08176.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Andre Grenon