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Antitrust suit against airlines can move ahead, judge says

American Airlines jets taxi at Miami International Airport. A merger with US Airways made American Airlines the world's largest carrier. A judge has refused to dismiss an antitrust lawsuit against the nation's biggest airlines.
(Lynne Sladky / Associated Press)

A lawsuit by airline travelers who accuse the nation’s biggest carriers of colluding to keep prices high has cleared its first hurdle.

Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., filed an opinion last month rejecting a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. She said the plaintiffs in the suit, travelers who bought airline tickets starting in 2009, offered enough evidence to move forward with the suit.

“The court finds that plaintiffs sufficiently set forth circumstantial evidence to demonstrate a plausible claim,” she wrote.

The order by Kollar-Kotelly doesn’t mean that she has taken a side in the case, only that the dispute will be settled in court.

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The accusations were made in 23 antitrust lawsuits that were consolidated and brought before Kollar-Kotelly. The lawsuits contend that, starting in 2009, United, American, Southwest and Delta conspired to limit the number of new seats they added to raise airfares despite lower fuel costs.

The lawsuit noted that executives from the four airlines made similar comments about exercising “capacity discipline” during earnings reports and airline conferences.

“If the airlines inflated the price of fares, they are responsible to return that inflation,” said Michael Hausfeld, a lawyer who was appointed to represent the plaintiffs.

The U.S. Department of Justice is also investigating allegations of an airline price-fixing conspiracy, but Hausfeld declined to say whether he was cooperating with the federal agency.

Matt Miller, a spokesman for American Airlines, called the lawsuit “meritless,” saying it “should have been rejected at the outset.” A representative for Delta declined to comment. Officials from United and Southwest did not respond to requests for comments.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

To read more about the travel and tourism industries, follow @hugomartin on Twitter.


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