Thursday, August 6, 2015 - A federal judge has ruled that thousands of lawsuits filed in conjunction a 5-year old multidistrict litigation case against Delta Airlines and AirTran Airways regarding price-fixing allegations will be allowed to proceed. The antitrust claims related to baggage fees is seeking to reimburse all eligible class members who have paid for checked luggage with either Delta or AirTran since 2008.
The lawsuit claims that both Delta and AirTran allowed passengers to check a single bag for free prior to 2008, when both companies decided to begin to charge for a first checked bags. Plaintiffs claim that the proximity of the two making the switch set off alarms that hinted at collusion between the companies. The two airlines were central competitors for travelers prior to their alleged coordinated price-hike, but both began charging customers for bags on December 5, 2008.
The lawsuits filed against Delta and AirTran were consolidated into multidistrict litigation in February of 2010 in Atlanta. The Georgia venue was chosen as the two airlines both operate out of the massive Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta and AirTran used to be based they were bought by Southwest in 2011. Delta still has a base in Atlanta.
The decision to allow the litigation to proceed was made just days after a $2.7 million fine was levied against Delta for destroying documents requested by the plaintiffs. It was not the first time Delta had been accused of disposing of information, as plaintiffs claimed in 2011 that the company was intentionally overwriting files that could prove useful in litigation.
Delta‘s proceedings throughout the discovery process have not gone smoothly and oftentimes resulted in fines. They were first fined $1.3 million for failing to turn over 60,000 pages of requested documentation that was discovered. A second fine of $3.49 million was levied after another discovery of requested documents was made. The latest sanction filing, which resulted in the $2.7 million fine, came in under the $2.9 million plaintiffs requested, but well above the suggested amount given by the special master which did not reach $2 million. This latest sanction ruling was the fifth in the case, totaling $8.4 million in fines against Delta.
The defendants have claimed that the bag fees have actually lowered airfares in many instances for passengers. The claims are based on arguments that the bag fees created more revenue for the airlines, which allowed them to lower fares. They claimed at times bag fees may have made the entire trip cheaper for a consumer. The defendants also argued that because the bag fees lowered prices for additional bags beyond the first one, overall prices dropped for travelers flying with more than one bag. These arguments against certifying the latest lawsuits before U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten, who is overseeing the litigation, were rejected.
The lawsuits in the multidistrict litigation will proceed with the new class, and plaintiffs are seeking full monetary damages from the defendants. Despite all the sanctions and missteps thus far by the defendants, the outcome of the litigation is still very much up in the air.