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Assail on British Airways Fuel Charges Kept Alive

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) - British Airways must face a class action accusing it of imposing bogus fuel surcharges to passengers between 2007 and 212, a federal judge ruled.

British Airways "did not tie its fuel surcharges to fuel prices," lead plaintiffs Russell Dover, Jonathan Stone, Cody Rank and Suzette Perry claim. "Instead, [it] used the fuel surcharge as an opportunity to charge its Executive Club members hundreds of dollars for each 'free' reward ticket, to increase its own revenue regardless of whether fuel prices were high or low."

The 1-year-old federal lawsuit in Brooklyn alleges that each plaintiff booked various flights around the world, paying for fuel surcharges raging between $750 and $3,293 that did not reflect the true price of jet fuel.

British Airways argued that the lawsuit is pre-empted by the federal Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, which deregulated domestic air transport and forbids states from enforcing provisions related to price, route or service of an air carrier.

U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie disagreed on Nov. 8, however, saying that the law "does not preempt contract claims, whether or not they relate to pricing or would otherwise be precluded if articulated under state consumer protection laws."

British Airways states on its website that the fuel surcharges "reflect the fluctuating price of worldwide oil." A spokeswoman for the airline declined to comment on pending litigation.

Dearie declined to consider the merits of both parties' claims, but ruled that the plaintiffs stated a "plausible" claim for breach of the terms and conditions that should shake out in court.

A status conference is scheduled for Dec. 4 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Marilyn Go.

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