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Delta, AirTran Investigated for Colluding on Bag Fees

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that a judge is looking into allegations of collusion between Delta and AirTran, specifically that the two rival airlines conspired to add first-checked-bag fees simultaneously in late 2008. The suit is part of a larger class-action case filed in 2009.

According to the AJC, “The suit claims AirTran invited Delta to impose a first bag fee by signaling, through an executive’s comments to financial analysts, that it wanted to charge the fee if Delta acted first.” That alleged signal came in April 2008, and Delta added a first bag fee the following November. AirTran added its own fee about a week later.

A judge ruled that the allegations “contain sufficient factual specificity to establish an unlawful conspiracy,” but there are some pretty glaring holes in the case. First, bag fees have swept through the industry like wildfire, with all but two major domestic carriers charging for all checked bags. First-bag fees were already well-established when Delta and AirTran added theirs. Perhaps the airlines colluded on the timing of their respective fees, but the idea was hardly unique at the time.

Further, this was all happening while Delta was in the process of merging with Northwest, which already charged for the first checked bag. It was disappointing when Delta adopted Northwest’s fee, but hardly surprising due to the competitive environment at the time.

No telling when a ruling will come, but this is definitely worth watching.

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