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Hall attorneys seek 'members of the class'

Hall attorneys seek 'members of the class'
By Michael Milligan
Originally Posted on www.travelweekly.com

WASHINGTON -- Attorneys handling the Sarah Hall class-action suit against the major airlines are reviewing ARC data and other information to identify the travel agents who were in business as of October 1997, the boundary set by the courts for defining the class of plaintiffs.
The court also defined the class as consisting of "agents," rather than "agencies," which suggests that the class includes individuals as well as companies.

Members of the class will receive a notice from the law firm of Anderson Daniel & Coxe in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., the attorneys of record for the class, informing them of the lawsuit and their participation in it.

"The notice gives them opportunity to opt out of the class, and it gives them an opportunity to have their attorney represent them as a class member," said Bradley Coxe, a partner in the firm.

The firm is in the initial phases of collecting the data necessary to determine the number of agencies in the U.S, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico that were in business in October 1997, including agencies that may have closed in the interim.

It was unclear when the firm would be in a position to begin mailing out the notices, but Coxe stressed that members of the class are plaintiffs whether they receive a notice or not.

"What we will propose and what the court will try to do is find the means where everybody will at least have the opportunity to obtain some kind of notice," Coxe said.

"If for some reason somebody isn't aware of it, or if they [get the notice] in the mail and don't understand what it means or didn't read it, they are still a member of the class" unless they opt out.

Hall, owner of Travel Specialist in Wilmington, N.C., through her attorneys filed an antitrust suit against the airlines in December 1999 after the major airlines matched United's commission cut from 8% to 5%.
ARTA and several individual agencies later joined the suit, which was certified as a class action on Sept. 17.
A court date has been set for April 28.

In the meantime, travel lawyers are urging agents to become involved.
"Any travel agent who has any evidence of airline collusion should call [Hall's] attorneys and tell them about it," said Mark Pestronk, travel lawyer and Travel Weekly columnist.

Pestronk said agents involved in similar lawsuits against the airlines should drop their suits in favor of the Hall class action.

"They are wasting their time and money. There is no reason for the other cases to exist," Pestronk said. "All of these issues [such as collusion and commissions cuts] are already under consideration. And they should contribute some money to pay [Hall's lawyers'] expenses."
ARTA attorney Alexander Anolik advises agents to keep the Hall class action in mind when negotiating for the acquisition or sale of an agency. He suggested adding a provision to such contracts stipulating how the buyer and seller would share any monetary award.

Anolik also is cautioning agents about discarding old business records, noting that the class includes agents who issued airline tickets on or after Oct. 1, 1997.

Pestronk also said agents thinking about not selling airline tickets should reconsider because any sharing of an award would likely be based on ticket sales of an agent or agency.

"To get more of a share of the pie," Pestronk advised, agents should continue to sell airline tickets.