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One of the most frequent complaints lodged against British Airways by frequent flyers is the fact that the carrier imposes ridiculously high surcharges on tickets – both paid and award – that end up driving up airfares and especially awards to prohibitively expensive prices. Well, apparently one group of four flyers was fed up and filed a lawsuit against British Airways claiming that these surcharges are unfair and not based, as BA claims, on the price of fuel.
British Airways fought to have the lawsuit dismissed, but on Friday, US District Judge Raymond Dearie in Brooklyn ruled that the plaintiffs, who are members of BA’s Executive Club frequent flyer program, had sufficient cause to sue and that the surcharges were not substantively based on fuel prices. In fact, in his decision, Dearie wrote that the rise in surcharges in the five-year period from 2007-2012 did not appear to be directly related to changes in fuel prices at all, especially since the airline admits that it doesn’t use fuel surcharges as a hedge against fluctuations. Score one for the consumer.
According to the suit, the plaintiffs claimed that British Airways unfairly added hundreds or thousands of dollars to award tickets as a means to boost revenue and compensate for “free” tickets. One piece of evidence was the fact that one flyer paid more in surcharges on a first class award than an economy ticket would have cost if purchased ($854 to be exact). One of the other plaintiffs booked two roundtrip economy award tickets and paid $1,437 in extra fees and charges, the majority of which were fuel surcharges.
British Airways tried to argue that the complaint wasn’t valid based on the deregulation of the Airline Deregulation Act, but the judge dismissed that
If you want to read the whole decision for yourself, you can find it here: British Airways Lawsuit Decision
So we’ll see how this pans out – it would be a real coup if those outrageous fuel surcharges on British Airways – and the ones that American also charges on flights into and out of Heathrow both on its own flights and on partner BA’s – were brought into line with those charged by United and Delta, which are closer to $150-$300. Even better would be if that forced Virgin Atlantic to lower its fuel surcharges as well so that flying award tickets to/from London once again became reasonable.
However, on the other side of that equation, I suspect that if fuel surcharges are cut down to size, we might see British Airways join the devaluation club – of which United and Delta became charter members this past week – and raise the mileage requirements on awards across the board, making those distance-based gems like high-priced short-hauls much more expensive.
All in all, I think flyers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. We don’t want to pay those exorbitant and seemingly irrational fuel surcharges, but if we get our way with those, I suspect we’ll have to start using a lot more miles on BA and possibly American redemptions. Bottom line is, though this might be a battle won for consumers, chances are we’ll end up paying for it in the long term.
For more information, check out my post on Which Airlines Have the Highest Fuel Surcharges.