Cone v. American Airlines Group, Inc., a case filed this Thursday in the Middle District of North Carolina, is one of dozens of antitrust suits filed against the major U.S. airlines in courts across the country in recent weeks. With the addition of North Carolina, suits are now pending in at least seven states and the District of Columbia. Terry Maxon, who blogs about the airline business for the Dallas Morning News, has identified at least 75 such cases.
The Plaintiffs in the MDNC case, as in the other actions, allege that the major domestic airlines conspired to raise the price of airline tickets by limiting the routes and seats available to passengers. The basic theory is that the airlines unlawfully cooperated to maintain high ticket prices by artificially constraining capacity. According to the Plaintiffs, the combination of capacity constraints and declining fuel prices enabled the airlines to generate “record-breaking supracompetitive profits.”
The cases all arise from Civil Investigation Demands that the Department of Justice sent to the major domestic airlines (American, Delta, Southwest, and United) asking the airlines to produce communications with each other, Wall Street, and major shareholders about their future plans for passenger capacity. The flood of lawsuits began in July, when news of the investigation broke in stories like “US probing possible airline collusion that kept fares high”.
The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation is likely to transfer these cases to a single judge for pretrial proceedings. The panel will hear argument on motions to transfer for MDL proceedings on October 1, 2015.