Airlines Can’t Beat Back Flyer’s Price-Fixing Suit

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge denied several airline companies’ attempts to reach summary judgment in a class-action lawsuit accusing the companies of fixing prices for international travel between the United States and the Asia-Oceania region.
     In a Sept. 24 order, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer denied most of Air New Zealand, All Nippon Airways (ANA), China Airlines, EVA Air and Philippine Airlines’ arguments for summary judgment, ruling that the filed rate doctrine – which provides a defense against antitrust suits – does not apply.
     In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs – all airline passengers – accused the defendants of agreeing to impose air fare hikes and fuel surcharge increases that “were in substantial lockstep both in their timing and amount.”
     The defendants, in five individual motions, argued for summary judgment based on the filed rate doctrine, which forbids a regulated entity to charge a rate other than the one it filed with a regulatory agency.
     The companies said that because Congress gave the U.S. Department of Transportation authority over airline rates, those rates can’t be challenged under federal antitrust law. The doctrine is traditionally applied to utilities like telecommunications and gas and power companies, not the airline industry, Breyer said in his order.
     The defendants asked the court to apply the filed rate doctrine to filed and unfiled air fares, fuel surcharges, and discount fares given by ANA.
     Breyer ruled that the Department of Transportation exercised its authority over rates filed by defendants, but the agency didn’t exercise authority over rates the defendant didn’t file, including fuel surcharges and ANA’s special discount rates.

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