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Groups may merge airline antitrust suits

Groups may merge airline antitrust suits
By Laura Del Rosso
Originally Posted On: TravelWeekly.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- Two grassroots agent groups hoping to launch antitrust lawsuits against the airlines are talking about a possible merger.

The two groups are Cleveland-based United Travel Agencies of America (UTAA) and Reno, Nev.-based AntiTrust Travel Agent Compensation (Attac).

In the last few months, both have been on parallel tracks, each holding informational meetings led by antitrust attorneys who hope to create interest in suing the airlines that cut and then eliminated commissions, claiming their actions broke antitrust laws. 

But rather than work independently toward the same goal, the two groups may unite, said their travel agent leaders.
"We will be talking in October about a possible merger of the two lawsuits to make one stronger case," said Jan-Marie Brown, an organizer of Attac and owner of Happy Travel, Carson City, Nev.

Attendance at the Attac meetings in Atlanta, Chicago and New Orleans in August was light, Brown said.
At some, only 10 agents showed up to hear San Francisco antitrust attorney Joseph Alioto outline why he believes a lawsuit against the airlines can succeed. Two other meetings were scheduled for last week.

But Brown does not believe the low August turnout is indicative of lack of interest on behalf of agents, who will have to come up with $1 million to pay for Alioto's retainer before he starts work on the suit.

"Every agent who attended the meetings came away with a sense of hope that there is something we can do about our situation," she said.

Attac set up a tiered payment system to fund the suit. Agencies that generated $5 million and less in ARC sales in 2001 would pay $1,000 to participate. Those with more than $5 million in ARC sales would pay $1,000 more for each additional $1 million in sales.
Participating agencies also would pay into a separate fund for the Alioto firm's operating expenses and would be charged a $200 fee per agency to cover Attac's expenses.

Meanwhile, UTAA has set up a different system to fund its efforts, which are being headed by Cleveland attorney Harvey Bruner. Agencies would pay $750 each to join the lawsuit. UTAA's goal is to sign up 1,000 agents to defray the cost of Bruner's retainer and expenses.

Like Attac's suit, the UTAA legal effort would not be a class-action suit but would be launched on behalf of the agents who pay to participate and are named as plaintiffs.

The group canceled its last scheduled meeting, Sept. 6 in Cleveland, because of religious holidays, and no other sessions are planned until the two groups meet and discuss a possible merger of efforts, said Paula Fauskey, president of UTAA and owner of Timeless Travel, Cleveland.

Industry attorney Alexander Anolik, who represents ARTA in the lawsuit against the airlines brought by North Carolina agent Sarah Hall, remains skeptical about the group's legal endeavors.

"I'm the last person to discourage this type of activity against the airlines, but they will run into problems because of the expense. They will run out of money and have to settle."