American Airlines is contending with a revived lawsuit over its failure to deliver checked baggage on time.
The case was originally brought to a lower court, with a former American customer taking legal action after the airline delivered her checked bags late. The plaintiff contends AA should have refunded her the $15 she paid to store her luggage in an aircraft hold after it didn’t uphold its own promise of swift offloading and delivery.
A judge from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said the female traveler could pursue her claim as a class action on behalf of others, “because federal law did not pre-empt her state law-based breach-of-contract claim.”
American Airlines merged with US Airways in 2013, four years after plaintiff Hayley Hickcox-Huffman’s checked baggage never arrived to the airport in Colorado Springs, CO.
Hickcox-Huffman had flown with US Airways from San Luis Obispo, CA, and paid the airline’s $15 fee to store one piece of luggage in the aircraft used for her flight’s hull.
US News reported via Reuters that American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller said the company is reviewing its legal options.
The lawsuit had earlier been dismissed by a lower court, writing off Hickcox-Huffman’s loss as pre-empted by the federal Airline Deregulation Act.
Circuit Court Judge Andrew Kleinfield, after lengthy review, reversed the decision and “rejected the carrier’s arguments.” He noted American Airlines had promised on-time delivery rather than a simple ‘best effort.’
American had argued in court that it didn’t owe Hickcox-Huffman anything, since US Airways, prior to the merger, had never guaranteed customers a refund for lost or late baggage.
Kleinfield seems not to have bought into the defense, ruling the case be sent back to lower court for reconsideration.
“No state law made US Airways promise timely delivery of the first bag for $15,” wrote Kleinfield.
“Enforcing its voluntarily undertaken obligation comports with the purpose of the Airline Deregulation Act, which simply holds parties to their agreements,” the judge added.
Reuters noted a common complaint against the airline industry, which is that deceptively low fares are often compensated by fees for checked and carry-on baggage as well as other ‘amenities.’
American in particular collected upwards of $1 billion in baggage fees in 2016, which is more than any other carrier. The company’s revenue from baggage fees accounted for a quarter of all fees collected by the industry in the United States, per the Department of Transportation.