Can Southwest and American Airlines Passengers Collect Money from a Lawsuit Settlement?

A website urging certain travelers to register advises that "it may not be economically practical" for them to collect cash stemming from a real court case.

Claim

Certain travelers who used American or Southwest Airlines can collect money as part of a consolidated lawsuit settlement.

Rating

Consumers who purchased tickets for Southwest or American Airlines between 2011 and 2018 may be eligible to claim a portion of a settlement from a consolidated lawsuit.

How much, if anything, eligible consumers stand to collect is unknown.

Origin

In October 2018, readers contacted us saying that they had received similar messages concerning a purported settlement for passengers who had traveled on certain domestic airline flights:

Dear Class Member:

Our records show you may have purchased a domestic airline ticket from American, Delta, Southwest, United, Continental Airlines, or US Airways between July 1, 2011 and June 14, 2018. Southwest and American Airlines (the “Settling Defendants”) have agreed to settle nationwide litigation by passengers who claim the four largest U.S. carriers along with Continental Airlines and US Airways conspired to increase fares on domestic flights. The Settling Defendants deny that they did anything wrong, have asserted defenses to the claims, and have settled to avoid the burden and expense of litigation.

According to the message, the Southwest Airlines settlement applied to passengers who bought their tickets between 1 July 2011 and 20 December 2017, while passengers on American Airlines flights were eligible if they bought their tickets between 1 July 2011 and 14 June 2018.

The claims regarding settlements on the part of the two airlines are accurate, and both stem from the same consolidated lawsuit comprising 23 separate anti-trust suits. According to the complaint, the airlines began colluding in 2009 to limit their flight capacities in order to hike ticket prices.

In January 2018 Southwest agreed to pay a $15 million settlement, while American agreed to pay $45 million five months later. However, as part of the settlements neither airline admitted to committed any wrongdoing.

The email encouraged recipients to visit the website domesticairclass.com, asserting that it could help consumers who traveled on Southwest or American see if they were eligible to receive payments as part of the settlement. However, it also cautioned that:

At this time, it is unknown how much each eligible Settlement Class Member will receive. Given the number of Settlement Class Members, it may not be economically practical to make a direct cash distribution to Class Members until additional settlements or judgments are achieved. It is possible that after deductions for any attorneys’ fees, litigation expenses, settlement administration expenses, and class representative incentive awards approved by the Court, the remaining amount will be distributed to charities, governmental entities, or other beneficiaries approved by the Court. No money will be returned to the Settling Defendants once the Court approves the Settlements. A distribution plan will be prepared later or at the conclusion of the litigation based on other settlements or a judgment.

The site is registered to Rust Consulting, a Minnesota company hired by the federal government to distribute settlement checks that has been the subject of several complaints on both the Better Business Bureau‘s web site and the Ripoff Report website.

In November 2013, the consulting firm drew negative attention after WDAF-TV reported that they failed to follow through on a promised $300 settlement check over a wrongful foreclosure settlement. The recipient, Bonnie Lewis, was told that despite receiving a letter saying she would get the money, she could not collect because her name was not on her home’s mortgage:

[WDAF] Problem Solvers listened in as Lewis made yet another call to the help line at Rust Consulting to inquire about her check. But all she got was someone reading from a script telling her she would just have to wait.

So we got on the phone and asked to speak to a supervisor. We were told someone called a program manager would call Lewis, but so far that hasn’t happened. So we tried to contact Rust Consulting directly and were referred to a special number for the media, but when we dialed all we got was a recording telling us no one at Rust Consulting can talk to the media.

So then we tracked down the phone number of a senior vice president named Jim Parks and left a lengthy message about Lewis and a request for a return call. We never heard back.

After WDAF’s story aired, a public relations company contacted the station saying that Rust Consulting was “was looking into the problems” with Lewis’ check and promised to resolve them.

We contacted Rust Consulting seeking more information but did not receive a response prior to publication. But given that the settlement website advises prospective claimants that they may not receive cash (or anything at all), we are are rating this claim as a Mixture even though the airlines’ settlement agreement is legitimate.

  • Stempel, Jonathan.   “Southwest Airlines to Pay $15 Million to Settle Price Collusion Lawsuit.”
        Reuters.   4 January 2018.

  • Martin, Hugo.   “American Airlines Agrees to Pay $45 Million to Settle Antitrust Lawsuit Filed by Passengers.”
        Los Angeles Times.   18 June 2018.

  • Wagar, Linda.   “Waiting for a Settlement Check? Here’s Something You Should Know.”
        WDAF-TV.   18 November 2013.

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