Case dismissed: No ID? No flight

J. Gillula had a Southwest Airlines ticket from Oakland, Calif., to Baltimore last year. But he didn’t have his ID.

That shouldn’t have been a problem, at least according to the TSA. It allows passengers who don’t have identification to undergo a secondary screening.

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But it was a problem.

After a long wait, and an interrogation by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, a Southwest airlines employee approached me and told me that I would not be able to fly that day.

When I asked who it was — the TSA or Southwest — that was denying me the right to travel, she clearly indicated that Southwest was denying me boarding, in the presence of several TSA employees who made no attempt to correct her.

I was then escorted back to the ticket counter, where the Southwest employee processed a refund for my round trip ticket; she did not, however, make any attempt to re-book me or provide me with alternate transportation.

That doesn’t seem right to Gillula, who believes Southwest shouldn’t have turned him down and owes him compensation for being denied boarding.

I know that if the reason for denying me boarding had been different (i.e. if the flight had been overbooked) then I would have been due additional compensation under federal law; it doesn’t seem to make sense that denying me compensation under this instance would be any different. For the record, the amount I have been asking for is precisely the amount I would be due had the flight been overbooked.

That sounds reasonable. TSA should have allowed him to board, and if Southwest wrongfully denied him boarding, it should compensate him. Right?

Well, I asked Southwest about his case. It reviewed all of its records relating to his incident. Here’s what it had to say:

All three files clearly state that it was the TSA who denied him boarding, not Southwest, because of their inability to verify his identity. A Customer Service Supervisor in Oakland processed the refund of his tickets because the TSA would not allow him to fly.

Customer Relations had our General Counsel department review his third request for additional compensation and our response to Jeremy and believe that Customer Relations handled the issue appropriately.

Specifically, and this was explained to him in our response, he was not permitted to fly by the TSA and his ticket was refunded by Southwest because he was not able to verify his identify per DOT Regulations 14 CFR Part 250.

The consistency through all is that our records maintain it was TSA’s call. I know this is not the answer he was seeking, but if he cannot verify his identify to satisfy the TSA, he is not due additional compensation (other than the refund of his roundtrip ticket, which he did receive) from the airline on which he’d hoped to fly.

I ran that answer past Gillula. Here’s his reaction:

It sounds like they’re changing their story, since in my last conversation with a Southwest employee (which I recorded since I was afraid something like this might happen), she admitted (several times) that it was Southwest who denied me boarding. If you want a copy or transcript of the recording, just let me know.

The Southwest employee did say they denied me boarding at the TSA’s request, but I still don’t understand why Southwest had to get involved at all. After all, if the TSA didn’t want me to fly then all they would have to do is keep me from going through the checkpoint. Why would they need to bring a Southwest agent over and have her tell me she was denying me boarding?

Additionally, Southwest’s claim that I was “not permitted to fly by the TSA and [my] ticket was refunded by Southwest because [I] was not able to verify [my] identify per DOT Regulations 14 CFR Part 250” is completely bogus. DOT Regulations 14 CFR Part 250 is the chapter on oversales (which doesn’t apply because, as they said, the flight wasn’t oversold) and doesn’t even contain the words “identity” or “identification.”

This is a disappointing outcome for both of us. I had hoped Southwest would compensate him for denied boarding, and thought he had a strong case.

I was wrong.

For the rest of you reading this, remember to bring your ID to the airport when you fly. You don’t want this to happen to you.