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Continental Sues Delta Air

Courts: Lawsuit demands that rival remove shared equipment limiting size of carry-on bags at San Diego airport.

November 25, 1998|JAMES F. PELTZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Continental Airlines is fueling the debate over one of the most contentious issues in airline travel: the size of carry-on baggage that passengers can bring aboard jetliners.

Continental on Tuesday sued rival Delta Air Lines to force Delta to stop using equipment that restricts the size of carry-on luggage for their passengers at San Diego International Airport.

Continental and a third airline, America West, share Delta's equipment in San Diego under a test program that began in August. "Clearly it didn't work" because the equipment is "very disruptive to customers," Continental spokesman David Messing said.

Travelers whose luggage doesn't pass must return to the ticket counter to check their bags, which is unnecessary in the case of Continental passengers because the planes can accommodate their luggage, Continental said.

Houston-based Continental has asked Delta several times to remove the gear but Delta refused, Messing said.

Delta's "baggage-sizer" has a plastic-like template that blocks any oversize bag from continuing on a conveyor belt through the X-ray screening machine, Continental said. Other airlines are starting to use the devices at other airports as well, but the San Diego operation has sparked the most complaints, Messing said.

Officials at Atlanta-based Delta couldn't immediately be reached for comment, but Delta spokeswoman Peggy Estes told Bloomberg News that Delta wasn't aware there was a problem.

The lawsuit, filed in San Diego County Superior Court, is somewhat ironic. The major airlines and safety regulators have complained for years that too many travelers try to board with too much luggage, causing delays and safety hazards.

In April, Delta and other carriers slashed the number of exceptions to their "two-bag carry-on rule," to cut down on the amount of boarded baggage.

Many passengers, in turn, try to board with as much baggage as possible to avoid the airlines' delays in delivering checked luggage to airport terminals.

Continental said the Delta equipment isn't needed because Continental has bought new planes and upgraded its existing fleet to provide more room in their overhead luggage bins.

But Messing denied that the suit was a publicity move to promote Continental's service at Delta's expense. The suit was needed because "our repeated requests since September to have it [the equipment] removed have been rejected by Delta," he said.

"We're in a customer-service business, and this is our way of responding" to the complaints, Messing said. "It's not a one-size-fits-all issue, and you can't apply it to all flights on all airlines."

For now, Continental is placing representatives next to Delta's baggage-sizers in San Diego "who can flip up the template and let the bag go through" for Continental travelers, Messing said.

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