SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Fifteen international airlines conspired to fix prices in a scheme favoring “collusion over competition,” passengers claim in a federal antitrust class action. The class claims that as far back as early 2000, the airlines began increasing international fares at the same time.
“The close timing and amount of defendants’ increases were not coincidences, but rather the product of a collusive agreement to fix, raise, maintain and stabilize the prices of base passenger fares and fuel surcharges on international flights,” the complaint states.
Lead plaintiff Caroline Joy claims, for example, that Air New Zealand charged $918 for coach airfare from San Francisco to Auckland, exactly the same price as Qantas.
Other airlines named as defendants include Air France, KLM Royal Dutch Airline, Continental Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific Airways. The class claims the airlines made millions, or tens of millions of dollars from the price-fixing.
The class claims the airlines met secretly, destroyed incriminating emails, staggered the dates on which airfare changes were announced and lied to consumers about the real reasons behind the fare increases, which the airlines often attributed to fuel surcharges. (Page 85 in the complaint.)
The complaint cites a U.S. Justice Department investigation of several defendants airlines, which led to a guilty plea from Qantas in 2008, which paid a $61 million criminal fine.
Cathay Pacific and Air France and KLM also admitted guilt after DOJ investigations in 2008 and agreed to pay fines of $60 million (Cathay Pacific) and $350 million (Air France and KLM, which have merged). (Page 78 in the complaint.)
Cathay Pacific’s CEO Tony Tyler admitted that its acts “‘were in conflict with U.S. antitrust laws and we very much regret this,'” according to page 80 of the complaint.
The class demands treble damages for antitrust conspiracy. It is represented by G. Scott Emblidge with Moscone, Emblidge and Sater.