SAN FRANCISCO — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is allowing a class-action lawsuit against US Airways and its parent company American Airlines over baggage fees to move forward.
In 2013, Haley Hickcock-Huffman filed a lawsuit against US Airways and American Airlines to reclaim the cost of her $15 baggage fee after her luggage did not arrive on her May 2009 flight from San Louis Obispo to Colorado Springs, Colo.
"This lawsuit has to do with US Airways, and it has to do with its promise to get customers their luggage on time," Roger Neil Behle Jr, an attorney at Foley Bezek Behle & Curtis LLP who is representing the plaintiff, told the Northern California Record. "And we filed a class-action on behalf of people who were similarly afflicted."
Hickcock-Huffman's lawsuit, Hickcock-Huffman v US Airways Inc et al, was initially dismissed by a district court judge in April 2011 under the argument that returning the luggage fee was never part of the original agreement between the airline and the customer.
In addition, the district court judge argued that the Federal Airline Deregulation Act only requires airlines to demonstrate that they made their best effort to deliver the bags. The law does not guarantee delivery.
"The district court moved to dismiss the lawsuit because it was in violation of the Federal Airline Deregulation Act," Behle said. "But most people do not realize this, but when they purchase a ticket they are agreeing to a contract and part of that contract states that luggage will be delivered in a set amount of time."
On May, 1 2017 Judge Andrew Kleinfield of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit disagreed with the lower court. In his ruling, Kleinfield said that while the airline is not required to deliver the bags, that does not invalidate the airline's claim to offer on-time baggage delivery. The Federal Airline Deregulation Act does not state that passengers are forbidden from pursuing legal recourse if the terms of the agreement are not met, according to the judge.
This means that the case will be able to move forward as a class-action suit.
"Ms. Hickcox-Huffman paid a fee to check her bag, and that bag was not delivered," Behle said. "We are arguing that this is a breach of contract and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed."
According to Behle, the next step in Hickcock-Huffman v. US Airways Inc et al is that the case will enter the discovery phase and the legal team will begin to get a sense of how many people the class-action is likely to involve.
He said it will include any person who can prove that their bags did not arrive with their flight.
"I wouldn't want to state a specific figure, but my guess is that the number of participants in the class action will likely be in the thousands," he said. "And the damages will equal the refunded luggage fee of $15 for every bag that did not arrive with its flight."