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Judge Approves Coupons for Air Travelers : Transportation: Millions are eligible for discounts under the settlement of an airline price-fixing lawsuit.

March 23, 1993|From Associated Press

ATLANTA — Millions of air travelers may get discount coupons under a $458-million settlement approved Monday in a price-fixing lawsuit against the nation's biggest airlines.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Marvin H. Shoob came after three years of litigation over charges that the airlines used a computerized system to mutually raise ticket prices. The airlines denied wrongdoing, but said they agreed to settle to avoid a lengthy and expensive trial.

In a 141-page ruling, Shoob approved the settlement basically as it was presented to him last summer. But he cut attorneys' fees from the $24 million they requested to $14.4 million.

Virtually anyone who bought tickets on any of nine airlines between Jan. 1, 1988, and June 30, 1992, is eligible for an award. Most may receive coupons good for discounts on future ticket purchases, though a few will get cash.

In essence, travelers who bought five or more tickets during the period, or took trips totaling $2,500 or more, may be awarded coupons worth up to 10% of the cost of the original tickets. Those with fewer purchases may get vouchers worth up to $100.

The coupons can be used for 10% discounts on the price of each new round-trip ticket, and will be interchangeable among a variety of airlines, regardless of which carrier the traveler originally used.

Bill Berry, a spokesman for Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, said the settlement will have minimal financial impact on the airline. "This was simply the fastest way to get it over with," he said.

The lead attorneys in the case had already left their offices when the ruling was released late Monday afternoon and couldn't be reached for comment.

The main settlement in the class-action lawsuit covers millions of people who bought tickets on Delta, United Airlines, American Airlines and USAir.

Similar settlements were reached separately by Northwest Airlines and Trans World Airlines.

The remaining airlines--Pan American World Airways, Continental Airlines and Midway Airlines--have either gone out of business or filed for bankruptcy protection. But under the settlement, people who flew on those airlines can also get coupons for discounts on other airlines.

Also named in the lawsuit was the Airline Tariff Publishing Company Inc., a computerized clearinghouse for air fares.

Shoob said he approved the settlement even though it was doubtful the travelers would prevail had the case gone to trial. Even if the plaintiffs had won, he said, the financially ailing airlines might have been unable to pay damages.

Lawyers in the case have said the coupons should begin to be distributed by mid-1994, if there are no appeals of the settlement.

To file a claim, consumers can request a form by writing: Airlines Antitrust Litigation, P.O. Box 267, Pennsauken, N.J., 08110-0267.

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