(NEW YORK) — In 1987, American Airlines was struggling and desperate for money, so they started offering an unlimited lifetime airpass for $350,000, hoping for an infusion of cash. Just 66 people purchased the AAirpass before the program was discontinued, but for those lucky few who got on board early, it was quite the deal.
AAirpass holders became American Airline VIPs, with virtually unlimited first class flight options for themselves and a companion.
Steve Rothstein, one such airpass holder, estimates he flew from his home in Chicago to New York a thousand times, Los Angeles and San Francisco 500 times, Paris and Sydney 80 times, all without paying a dime and racking up frequent flier miles. He says he thought nothing of flying strangers with him or picking up a friend in Los Angeles and heading to Paris for a quick visit to the Louvre.
That was all before American cracked down, canceling his airpass three years ago, after an investigation found the airline was losing millions of dollars to these extreme frequent fliers. The airline said Rothstein had abused the system by booking flights he never planned to use.
But Rothstein says he didn’t do anything wrong, and he’s suing the airline, hoping to get his pass back.
“A deal’s a deal. I’ve made deals in business, which I’ve regretted five minutes later. But a deal’s a deal,” he told ABC News’ John Berman.
Another AAirpass user, Jacques Vroom, who was also investigated and lost his pass, is also suing the airline.
In a statement to ABC News, American Airlines spokeswoman Mary Sanderson says cases like Rothstein’s and Vroom’s are an “extremely small percentage of our overall AAirpass accounts, but fraudulent activity costs all of our customers money.”
The litigation over whether this was abuse of the system or a bad business plan is on hold for now, since American Airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy late last year.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Matt McFarland, CNN
Julia Horowitz, CNN
Ivaylo Vezenkov and Lauren del Valle, CNN
Erin McClam, CNN