New York State Appellate Court Rejects Claims Arising from Allegedly Pre-Planned Diversion of Flight

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The plaintiff in Okoroafor v. Emirates Airlines purchased a ticket on a flight that Emirates Airlines allegedly advertised as a “one-stop” flight from Lagos, Nigeria to Newark, New Jersey. After stopping in Dubai, the flight diverted to Athens, Greece, where it remained on the ground for several hours before
continuing to Newark.

Plaintiff, alleging that the airline had a “systematic routine” of diverting its advertised “one-stop” flights and that these planned diversions benefitted the airline economically, brought a putative class action in state court in New York County asserting causes of action for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, wrongful imprisonment, and false advertising. Plaintiff also pled a claim for “reckless, wanton and willful misconduct,” because “landing and take-off of an aircraft constitute two of the most dangerous flight procedures,” and the airline jeopardized the plaintiff’s safety by making extra stops. The trial court granted the airline’s motion to dismiss, holding that the airline was not subject to personal jurisdiction in New York and that the Airline Deregulation Act preempted all of plaintiff’s claims.

The Appellate Division affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s claims, though it did so for reasons partially different from the trial court. First, the Court held that the airline was not subject to general personal jurisdiction in New York because: (1) it is headquartered in and has its principal place of business in Dubai; (2) although the airline has an office in New York, it is not essentially “at home” in New York; and (3) by registering to do business in New York, the airline had not consented to general personal
jurisdiction in New York. The Court’s opinion contains no indication that the plaintiff alternatively argued that the airline was subject to specific personal jurisdiction in New York.

Second, the Appellate Division held that, because plaintiff’s claims were “essentially for delay,” Article 19 of the Montreal Convention, which governs liability “for damage occasioned by delay in the [international] carriage by air of passengers,” preempted all of the plaintiff’s claims. In so holding, the Court rejected plaintiff’s attempt to invoke the “complete nonperformance doctrine,” which holds that the Montreal Convention does not preempt breach of contract claims alleging that an airline completely failed to transport a passenger. In this case, the Court explained, the complete non-performance doctrine did not apply because, after diverting his flight to Athens, the airline did eventually transport plaintiff to his final destination. Okoroafor v. Emirates Airlines, 145 N.Y.S.3d 807, 2021 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 4098 (N.Y. App. Div. June 22, 2021) (facts and details of trial court proceedings sourced from plaintiff’s pleadings).

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