Once upon a time, cash was king. But more and more technology has tied purchasing power to credit and debit cards for their ease of use. Smartphones are even beginning to play a part in the credit-card payment business with ventures like Square, started by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, which allows anyone with a smartphone and the mini card-reader to accept plastic. While some find these prospects exciting, New Jersey lawyer Michael Rosen thinks that credit and debit cards shouldn’t be the only form of acceptable payment. And to show his displeasure, he’s suing Continental Airlines for refusing to accept his cash aboard a 10-hour flight from Hawaii to New York.
Rosen says that he purchased headphones when he flew to Hawaii and was told that they would work on future Continental flights. When he tried using them on his return trip, they did not work. Rosen attempted to buy a new pair with cash, which the airline (like most others) stopped accepting two years ago. Rosen, who had left his credit cards in his checked luggage, was none too happy that he would have to sit through the 10-hour flight with no source of entertainment.
One reason that most airlines don’t accept cash is to make things easier for flight attendants, who find it a hassle to have to make change or account for cash. But Rosen’s lawyer Nathan Kittner says that’s no excuse. “That shouldn’t be the consumers’ problem; that’s their problem,” he says.
Rosen’s other objection to the card-only policy is that airlines’ refusal to accept cash could potentially be discriminatory, as the lawsuit claims. Some people don’t use cards and others may not have good enough credit to be issued credit cards in the first place. Then there’s the matter of what the government says: technically the Coinage Act of 1965 states that “U.S. coins and currency are legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues.” But the Treasury Department, on its website, says that “private businesses are free to develop their own policies on whether or not to accept cash unless there is a state law which says otherwise.”
A New Jersey judge will decide if the practice violates the state’s consumer protection law and whether the case will move forward. If it does, Rosen’s action could force all airlines to reconsider their cashless policy.