A federal judge in Atlanta has given class status to a sweeping price-fixing case that accuses two national airlines of conspiring to start charging baggage fees.U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten on Tuesday certified a class that includes anyone who paid a first bag fee to Delta Air Lines or AirTran Airways, starting with the inception of the fees in 2008 and continuing through November 2014 when Southwest Airlines eliminated AirTran's first bag fees after the two companies merged. The class potentially consists of more than 28 million customers and could rise to as many as 57 million, according to expert testimony offered in court papers and hearings.Batten's class certification ruling comes in seven-year-old, multidistrict antitrust litigation against Delta and AirTran. The suit contends that in 2008 the two airlines—which competed fiercely for passengers flying through Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport—illegally colluded to institute first bag fees. Lawyers for the plaintiff passengers maintain that Delta and AirTran executives used multiple venues—including public quarterly earnings calls with security analysts, industry conferences, joint negotiations with Atlanta airport officials over gate leases, and an informal "grapevine"—to communicate and confidentially coordinate the decision to implement the fees. The passengers allege that the airlines carried out the scheme to preserve their market share.
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