US court rejects British Airways’ bid to dismiss flyers’ lawsuit over fuel surcharges

British Airways’ bid to dismiss a US lawsuit by frequent flyers, over bogus fuel surcharges on rewards flights, has been rejected, according to a report by Reuters.

British Airways, a unit of International Airlines Group (IAG), had argued that federal regulations pre-empted the lawsuit, and that the flyers failed to reasonably allege that the surcharges were not based on fuel costs.

According to US district judge Raymond Dearie in Brooklyn, New York, the plaintiffs offered adequate evidence for their claims that the surcharges were not ‘reasonably related to or based upon’ fuel costs.

The case – Dover et al v. British Airways Plc (UK), U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York; No. 12- 05567, was instituted on November 9, 2012 by four members of British Airways’ frequent flyer programme, Executive Club. Members accumulate points known as Avios that can be redeemed for plane tickets.

The plaintiffs claimed that the UK-based airline considered fuel surcharges as a means to boost revenue, and significantly charge frequent flyers on each ‘free’ reward ticket.

The judge cited a statistical analysis from the flyers, which showed that British Airways’ fuel surcharges from 2007 to 2012 ‘bore little relationship to – and were not based upon – changes in the price of fuel.’ British Airways countered the claim with its own analysis showing a correlation between fuel surcharges and oil prices.

Dearie further cited the idea that the carrier does not view surcharges as a hedge against variable fuel costs, as well as an allegation that one plaintiff paid a surcharge on a first class ticket to London’s Heathrow Airport that exceeded the cost of an economy class ticket on the same flight.

A spokeswoman for British Airways declined to comment, saying that the carrier does not discuss litigation matters, the Reuters report said.

Meanwhile, David Stellings, a partner at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein representing the frequent flyers, said the decision was ‘an important step forward’ for customers, and that the case will finally emerge successful for them.