Are Cashless Only In-flight Airline Sales Discrimination?

What happens when an attorney packs all of his credit cards and debit cards into his checked baggage before boarding a 9 hour 40 minute flight from Honolulu (HNL) to Newark (EWR)?  A law suit of course!


Last year Attorney Michael Rosen took a trip to Honolulu Hawaii with Continental Airlines (now United Airlines), on Mr. Rosen’s flight from Newark he used his credit card to purchase headsets to enjoy the in-flight entertainment. When Mr. Rosen purchased the headsets on board the Continental Boeing 767-424/ER, the only aircraft assigned to this route for many years, the flight attendant informed him that he could use the headsets on his return flight and all future Continental Airlines flights.


After a few days in Honolulu Mr. Rosen boarded another Continental Boeing 767-424/ER to fly back to Newark from Honolulu and claims to have discovered the headsets purchased on his outbound flight would not work with his return aircraft’s in-flight entertainment.


Mr. Rosen then allegedly attempted to purchase a new pair of headsets from the flight attendants for US$3 using cash when he was informed that purchases in flight were cashless only.Mr. Rosen then claims he was unable to use a credit card to purchase new headsets, as he had packed all of his credit cards [and debit cards] in his checked luggage.


Rather than face the fact that all Continental Airlines 767-424/ER aircraft use compatible headset jacks and that is highly unusual for someone to carry their ID and cash on board a flight while checking all their credit cards, Mr. Rosen retained Attorney Nathan Kittner and filed a law suit against Continental Airlines (now United Airlines).


What is Mr. Rosen’s legal complaint against Continental Airlines? That the airline is engaged in “unlawful discrimination against individuals who do not physically possess a debit or credit card” and that Public Law 89-81, 79 Statute 254, The Coinage Act of 1965“U.S. coins and currency are legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues.”


Mr. Rosen’s suit further claims that Continental Airlines was engaged in false advertising when he was informed the headsets purchased on his out bound flight would work on his return flight, a violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.


Continental Airlines’ motion to dismiss Docket L008257-10, Rosen v Continental, is being heard this morning in Essex County, New Jersey.


So what can we all learn from Mr. Rosen’s experience?

1)    Bring your own headsets and airline in-seat adapter (they come with many headsets now)

2)    Never bring your cash and ID on board a flight but check your credit cards … for lots of reasons.


Happy Flying!





  1. My inner cynic wonders if he was looking to have his credit cards stolen from his luggage to file suit on that.

    Seriously, you don’t check your ID, your wallet & it’s contents, nor valuable electronics. This guy was just looking for a suit to file.

    I hope he: a) loses the case & b) is compelled to cover the legal costs to Continental (United). Disgusting actions for a lawyer to undertake.

  2. I have never had to use an adapter to use my headphones on a plane, I’ve used the headphones that come with the iPhone, Apple inear headphones, and Bose qc2s. And I am likely going to be flying on that flight in 9 months, so I guess I will find out if they work then.

  3. I highly doubt he checked his cards. He apparently knew on-board purchases are cashless from his 1st flight.

    I think he was steamed about having to purchase a 2nd set (which I would agree with) and hoped the flight attendants would comp him the new pair once he told his “tragic tale of woe.”

    When he didn’t get a new set for free, he was into his lie too deep so he was forced to endure the flight sans entertainment thus giving him several hours with nothing to do but seethe.

    This trumped lawsuit is his silly attempt at “revenge.”

  4. While I do think he should have brought a credit card, he seems to have a real legal precedent. They always do say “Purchase a headset which you can keep and use on all future Continental flights”. The cashless debate may be stretch.

  5. Seatrate,

    The compatibility of the headsets is a confusing issue. The EWR-HNL route has been served by CO’s 764’s exclusively, and in 2010 it appears there have been no swaps for any other aircraft, all 764s have the same IFE, meaning they all use the same headsets … further more, all of Continentals’ aircraft use the same two-prong headset jack. The headsets he used on the EWR-HNL flight 100% would work on the HNL-EWR flight.

    He’ll have a hard time in court explaining how the headsets were not compatible once the airline brings out the evidence of its uniform headset jacks.

    Happy Flying!


  6. I’m no expert flyer, but I’ve only ever seen 2 types of plugs – standard and 2 prong. And the 2 prong always came with an adapter and could function as a regular one. Did he find the only magical 3rd type of plug?

    Dude, bring your own headphones and don’t check your wallet (if he did)!

    But it does bring up an interesting question as to what someone does if they can’t get a credit card or have one because they don’t trust themselves. What other options are there?

  7. It’s not discrimination. The airline is not saying that the cash is not legal tender, only that they refuse to do transactions with cash. The law basically just mandates that all business transactions must be done in Dollars, but that those dollars do not have to be actually physical cash — credit cards are fine.

    Easy to read reference:

    It’s just like some stores refuse to take credit cards. Are they guilty of discrimination as well? Euros are also legal tender currency, but I don’t have to take them here in the United States because by law I’m only required to do business in dollars.

  8. This is an effort to get something for nothing .. if the twit knew anything about the IFE systems, then he would know that they are all standard .. they are either a single or double. And, Continental has an adaptor packed with the headset to suit both. Its situations like this that are frustrating to real issues that Lawyers should be defending. He is looking for a handout from the best airline flying today .. even with the UAL system, they are all single plug. Credit cards are packed ? Sure they are …..

  9. Good grief, that’s what the industry needs to build back up its bank account. Idiots like this guy. He obviously has way too much time on his hands and not much going for him on top.

    Do you think his law practice takes Amex? One size does not always fit all, and stuff like this happens. For Continental/United to have to spend thousands to defend themselves is a waste.

    Thanks for explaining to me what is really important in life! I’d vote for him in Congress!


  10. Would a prepaid Visa card be an option for those people??

    At worst, I am sure had he explained nicely to the crew the situation, the supervisor could have loaned him a pair of headphones. He gives them back at the end of the flight, they don’t charge him, and write them off as a damaged/soiled pair. Easy.

    This is just a feeble attempt at a lawsuit for no real reason. I suggest this guy comes back when he has some real problems, like suing for a negligent injury or a death. THose a ‘real’ problems!

  11. What a loser! I guess he is telling us he checked his wallet etc., minus the drivers license to get thru security. Apparently business is bad at his firm & is looking for some free publicity.

    What a waste of the courts time!

  12. no wonder lawyers (specially american ) have such a bad reputation and are the butt of so many “lawyer” jokes. Maybe this guy was new to airline travel :)? I’m a retired airline captain and during my career, I’ve met too many of these characters trying to make a name for themselves and get all they can get at the expenses of others. Maybe he should fly Newark to Singapore non-stop, without headset : a mere 18 1/2 hours. Then he “might” have a bone to chew on 🙂

  13. What person would put there credit cards in there check in luggage? That’s like taking your cash , putting in your check in luggage and expect it to be untouched. Some people just like to sue for anything!
    I found a great new website all travel all the time comments and more airlineslodgingetc

  14. This just sounds like another ridiculous law-suit. Maybe his ego was so badly bruised his only way of retaliation was through filing a suit!

    I feel sorry for the flight attendant that dealt with him. In his defense
    I would be rather annoyed too if I was told I wouldn’t have to purchase headphones for the return leg. But annoyed enough to sue… I don’t think so.

  15. The airline’s aircraft is not a storefront, so I wouldn’t think the argument of cash being suitable payment for debts would hold water. When an airline operates thousands of flights a day, I think it unreasonable to expect them to have the flight attendants serve as cashiers – their primary purpose is the safety of the passengers, not to be your cashier. The airline is not obligated to keep the passengers entertained. I’ve long said that airline food and movies are just to keep the passengers distracted while sitting in a chair at 35,000 feet going 550 MPH. Pretty heady stuff. He’d already flown on Continental before and heard the advisement of the “credit card only” policy. He screwed up when he packed away his credit cards. Why should the airline be made to suffer for his error?

  16. Ah, the mindless drones proselytizing for the banking system status quo. What ever happened to paying with cold hard cash. I wonder how many of you trolls complain on the next site about the debt burden of this country and the peons who can’t manage their finances. It seems a bit un-American of and US based company not to take the currency of their own country. Don’t give me that crap either that it’s in ‘US dollars’ on the credit card either. Surprising that these days they don’t just take cash for an extra fee.

  17. A lawsuit over a $3 charge because he is a dumbass and puts his wallet in his checked bag? An airline is used to get from point A to point B. It doesn’t have to provide drinks, food, or entertainment. Take the bus and see what you get or next time pack a lunch and bring your own headset.

  18. I work as a customer service agent for an airline and ever since Enron and other financial mishaps. Accepting cash is considered a no-no. Those that do, have to go thru time consuming audits to see that everything thing balances.
    I’ve heard of flight attendants bringing in their own beer and selling them for $6 a can and pocketing the cash. Its a lot harder to do that with a credit card.

  19. Ah, yes Enron…greed and peoples willingness to look the other way for a quick buck. With the Enron scandal occurring right around that time and a new and improved security force put in place to cop a feel or drop a nude bomb (scanner) on everyone, how pray tell are attendants smuggling beverages on board. I agree, it is more difficult to pocket money on the spot with a credit card, however, if there are people willing to gouge people and pocket sales money for beverages, don’t you think there might be some willing to copy down a credit card # and expiration date and order something from the sky mall? A little bit of small talk and a google search later and you’ve got the persons home address. A worker misappropriates $6 for a drink that would’ve cost the same irrespective of who gets the money, mwah, I’ll get over it. Worker steals my identity and scores on my credit because I can’t use cash…I’ll never use the service (airline or bus) again if I can at all help it.

  20. Our travel agency handles many student groups the majority of them are legitimate in the fact that they do not have a credit card. When airlines do not accept cash, it presents a real problem for kids (or anyone who does not have a credit card). Is it discriminatory? Worthy of a lawsuit? Probably not, rather another instance of airlines’ being insensitive to the needs of their customers.

  21. Sharon,

    When traveling, you’ll find many students, Jr High through college, now may not have a credit card or debit card, but they do have a pre-paid card. Over the past 2 or 3 years the frequency of kids traveling with a pre-paid card has shot way up, so they would be able to purchase products in flight.

    Pre-paid cards are commonly sold globally now, so it can’t be easily said that these cards were unavailable to travellers.

    On a side note … ever seen a student travel without their own headsets?

    Happy Flying!


  22. Mr. Rosen is an idiot, no two ways about it. I’ve been hoping that someone would sue an airline over the ‘credit card only’ policy…too bad it is Mr. Rosen. Airlines should accept cash, because it is indeed legal tender. (Banks are to begin charging a per-transaction fee, so make sure you purchase all items at once on your next flight!) Airlines should also mail paper statements to their frequent flier members, should that option be preferred over electronic delivery. And, airlines should have to pay US tax on all the ancillary fees they collect. Will any of these come to pass? Possibly the tax issue, because the Fed is missing out on millions of dollars of income, and I hope they collect retroactively. Airline lobbyists will easily quash the other two.

  23. Sharon,

    I’m a high schooler and before I went abroad this year, my parents made sure that I had a credit card connected to their account and that I knew how to use it.

    So while I understand your defense, it’s also in some part the responsibility of the parents/students to make sure that they are well equipped for travel abroad, even if it is just a prepaid credit card that they buy at their local grocery store.

  24. Most of the responses here sound like they are from an under-40 crowd that hasn’t yet begun to understand the dangers of a cashless society. Keep in mind that at the present time, the merchants and banks are underwriting the hidden costs of credit/debit cards. Once the merchants begin to refuse cash and checks, they become free to incorporate those hidden costs into the price of the product. So–the $2 headset now costs $3; and the $1 bottle of liquor now costs $5.

    Keep in mind, too, that not all travelers — regardless of age — have credit/debit cards. More than 25% of the people in this country do not have a bank account at all. Yet, on occasion, these people fly. When they do, they are often first-time flyers and on a number of occasions, I have seen the surprise on their faces when they discover that cash is not acceptable in the air.

    While Continental may be within its rights to refuse cash, many of you have not yet learned the hard lesson of how much more it is costing you NOT to use cash.

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  28. Why not just offer to buy somebody a drink with cash in exchange for buying your headphones and whatever else he wanted? On several occasions, I’ve been in paid parking lots where the machines only accept debit or credit cards and have helped people out by taking their cash and using my card to pay for their parking. Most people are actually rather nice, and it feels good to be able to help. Heaven forbid we might have to **shudder** interact with people…

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