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Judge Approves Lufthansa Settlement - 10/6/2003

By Kevin Brass and R. Scott Macintosh

http://www.travelagewest.com/newsarticle.asp?articleid=2483

A federal judge in travel agents’ landmark class-action suit against the major airlines has approved a controversial settlement agreement with Lufthansa Airlines.

The proposed settlement was the first in the antitrust case filed under the name of travel agent Sarah Futch Hall and had been opposed by the Association of Retail Travel Agents, American Airlines and the Department of Justice.

But in a written ruling issued this week, Judge W. Earl Britt said the settlement agreement “is fair, adequate, reasonable and in the best interests of the plaintiff class for settlement purposes.”

Britt said the court had considered all of the objections and “finds that they do not raise concerns sufficient to overcome the presumption that the court should allow the settlement.”

The Department of Justice and American Airlines both had argued that the settlement plan raised “serious concerns under antitrust laws.” More than 700 ARTA members had registered their objections to the settlement.

Under terms of the settlement, Lufthansa will establish a “bonus program” for agents booking Lufthansa flights and allow agents access to its Web fares.

“The only value (of the agreement) is that it helps break the airlines’ monopoly,” said Alexander Anolik, ARTA's attorney. “Agents aren’t going to make any money off of it.”

Daniel Shulman, who represents Hall, said he hopes the agreement shows other airlines “the wisdom” of negotiating with agents “instead of fighting a battle they will lose.”

Lufthansa is the only airline to so far propose a settlement agreement. The case is scheduled for a February trial.