In the last 15 years, have you flown between the U.S. and Asia, Australia or New Zealand? If so, you might be eligible for a settlement from a class-action lawsuit against dozens of different airlines.
The airlines are due to pay out a total of $39,502,000 as a result of this class-action settlement, and that number may rise. The lawsuit claims certain airlines fixed ticket prices for travel across the Pacific Ocean, which may have led passengers to pay more than necessary for their flights.
The suit, which was filed in 2009, alleges “a long-running, international conspiracy” by a number of airlines and it also alleges that “airfare increases, including surcharge increases, on international air passengers that were in substantial lockstep both in timing and amount.” According to the suit, the airlines violated antitrust laws, including the Sherman Act. Department of Justice investigations led to a number of lawsuits by the U.S. government against airlines which, in turn, led to this class-action settlement.
What does this mean for you? If you’re eligible for the suit, you might be entitled to a chunk of cash.
How Do I Know If I’m Eligible to Participate?
You may be eligible if you bought a ticket on one of 26 airlines between January 1, 2000 and now. These tickets must include one or more flight segments between Asia or Oceania (including New Zealand and Australia) and the U.S.
One other requirement is that you must have purchased the ticket yourself and not been reimbursed by an employer or other individual.
Which Airlines Are Involved?
Eight airlines have agreed to a settlement, though they deny the allegations or any liability in the matter. These airlines include:
- Air France
- Cathay Pacific
- Japan Airlines
- Malaysian Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- Thai Airways
- Vietnam Airways
These airlines also agreed to help prosecute the other airlines involved.
Five defendants that opted not to settle and are still fighting the claims include:
- Air New Zealand
- All Nippon Airways (ANA)
- China Airlines (Taiwan)
- EVA Airways
- Philippines Airways
These airlines also deny that they are liable. However, All Nippon Airways (ANA) did plead guilty to an allegation of price fixing on certain tickets sold between April 1, 2000 and April 1, 2004.
Other “alleged co-conspirators” named on the claim form include:
- American Airlines
- Asiana Airlines
- British Airways
- Continental Airlines
- Delta Airlines
- Deutsche Lufthansa AG
- Korean Airlines
- KLM Royal Airlines
- Northwest Airlines
- Scandinavian Airlines
- Swiss International AG
- United Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic Airways
If you have flown on any of these airlines (or any of the settling defendant or non-settling defendant airlines), you may be eligible to receive funds from this suit.
How Can I Participate?
You can file a claim online or via mail. The earliest claim deadline could be September 19, 2015, but you’ll have 120 days after the final settlement to get your claims in.
If you don’t take action and add yourself to the list, you will be ineligible to receive payment. Plus, since you have to opt-out of class action lawsuits or are automatically included in the “class,” you will be ineligible to sue independently. So if you’re eligible and want to be part of this class-action lawsuit, sign up!
If you would like to sue the airlines yourself (and opt out of this particular settlement), you have until April 17, 2015 to file a “Request for Exclusion.” However, for most people, it makes the most sense simply to participate in the class action lawsuit.
How Much Money Could I Get Back?
We don’t know yet how much each participant could receive in this case. About $39.5 million could be doled out, and that funding comes from eight different airlines. Japan Airlines is contributing the largest ($10 million) share, followed by Thai Airways at $9.7 million, and Singapore Airlines at $9.2 million. The smallest sum so far, $735,000, comes from Vietnam Airlines. The court is still determining a “Plan of Allocation” to divvy up the funds, and interest accumulated during the suit will be added to the total fund.
It’s possible that more money may become available due to future trials or settlements. Or, if the court sides with the additional airlines, there may be no more money available. At this point, it’s impossible to tell what the total payout will be as a whole or for individual participants. After paying out to members of the suit, money that is left may be donated to charities if the court agrees.
How Do I File a Request for Exclusion?
If you would like to opt-out of the settlement and sue individually, you must exclude yourself from the classes in the lawsuit by sending a “Request for Exclusion” letter in the mail.
This letter must include your name and contact information (including address and phone number) as well as a statement that you are excluding yourself from the specific settlement classes. Your signature must also be on this letter. When complete, make sure it is postmarked by April 17, 2015 and mail to: Transpacific Air Settlement Exclusions, PO Box 2209, Faribault, MN, 55021-1609.
Here’s where to find more information on exclusions.
What If I Want to Object or Comment on the Settlement?
If you’d like to voice your objections or comments about the settlement, you can contact the court to share them. While excluding yourself from the settlement means you are ineligible for any payment from the class-action lawsuit, you can object or comment freely and still be a part of the suit. More information on this process is available here.
Where Can I Get More Information?
To learn more about the lawsuit, head to this website or call 1-800-439-1781 in the U.S. or Canada or 1-612-359-2900 (international). More information is available here, and the fine print of the settlement agreements is available in these court documents.
For even more in-depth information and copies of official court records, go to the Court’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system. You could also go in person to the Clerk of the Court for the United States District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, CA.
Your Turn: Did you book an eligible trip on one of these airlines? Let us know if you’ll be signing up to be part of the suit!
Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.