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Flyers Sue British Air Over 'Fuel Surcharges'

Annoyed by those so-called fuel surcharges British Airways imposes on award flights?

You're not alone. And the matter may be headed for a public hearing in a U.S. court.

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A U.S. District Court judge has given the go-ahead to a lawsuit filed by members of British Airways' Executive Club program, overruling the airline's claim that the suit lacked merit and should be dismissed.

The suit alleges that British Airways "did not tie its fuel surcharges to fuel prices. 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 revenue regardless of whether fuel prices were high or low."

That's an accusation that has been made against British Airways, as well as other mostly European and Asian carriers, by many travelers and travel analysts, including this writer.

British Airways, seeking to have the case dismissed, argued that the suit's central claim was preempted by the federal Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, a contention the judge deemed without merit.

This could all be for naught, or at least for very little. If British Airways were to simply relabel what it now calls fuel surcharges as, say, award co-pays, the legal problem would evaporate. The airline might be assessed a fine for some sort of past business malpractice, and the fees would remain in place—same annoyance, different name.

In the very unlikely event that the litigation scared British Airways off the disputed surcharges altogether, there's the prospect of the airline's raising award prices to compensate.

Be careful what you wish for.

Reader Reality Check

Fuel surcharge? Really?

This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.

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