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As airline baggage fees went up again this week, lawsuits by angry passengers challenging the hikes loom ahead. In Georgia, where a dozen baggage fee lawsuits have been consolidated into one, a federal judge last week appointed a four-firm team as interim class counsel in the multidistrict antitrust litigation against Delta Air Lines and AirTran Airlines. The airline carriers are accused of colluding to charge fliers a $15 fee on the first checked bag in highly competitive markets where neither wished to risk losing business by doing so alone. On Tuesday, Delta increased its fee again to $23 for the first bag and $32 for the second bag. AirTran did not. The higher fees come a week after U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten of the Northern District of Georgia on Jan. 5 appointed four firms to handle the multidistrict litigation: Washington, D.C.’s Kotchen & Low; Charleston, S.C.’s Richardson, Patrick, Westbrook & Brickman; Jacksonville, Fla.’s McCulley McCluer; and Atlanta’s Conley Griggs. The four firms filed the original complaint in May 2009, which triggered several other tag-along cases making virtually identical claims. Batten formed the team due to a conflict among several firms competing to handle the litigation. In his Jan. 5 order, he explained, “[T]hese firms have performed all of the substantive work — spanning seven months — in identifying, investigating, and drafting the claims that have now been largely adopted by other attorneys in the tag-along actions. Additionally, these firms have extensive antitrust and class action experience, and have abundant resources to effectively litigate this action.” The plaintiffs’ lawyers declined to comment on whether the new baggage fee increases would impact their litigation. Daniel Kotchen, a partner at Kotchen & Low, would only say, “We’re excited to litigate the case. We believe it’s a strong case.” A similar lawsuit seeking class action status is pending in federal court in Nevada, where a California woman alleges that Delta and AirTran’s parent company, AirTran Holdings, colluded in imposing the baggage fees. US Airways last year raised its maximum fees to the same levels as Delta’s new fees. Continental Airlines has also done so this week. Delta said that it raised fees in essence because it needed the money. “The increase is a result of the continued cost pressures on our business,” spokeswoman Susan Elliott said. Meanwhile, baggage fees aren’t just ticking off airline passengers. In Massachusetts, several Logan Airport skycaps are suing United Air Lines, arguing that its $2 checked baggage fee violates minimum wage laws by depriving them of tips. The suit follows an August 2009 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling that said a $2-per-bag fee imposed by American Airlines had deprived skycaps of tips and that upheld a federal jury award of $325,056 for the skycaps.

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