Jessica Karmasek Jul. 29, 2016, 3:06pm


HONOLULU (Legal Newsline) - A class action lawsuit has been filed against United Airlines over its alleged failure to disclose its checked baggage policy that, plaintiffs argue, maximizes “unaccompanied suitcases” on its passenger flights and, in turn, puts passengers at risk.

Plaintiff Kathleen M. Watson, of Hawaii, filed her 60-page complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii July 20.

Watson, the class plaintiff, is joined by Barton M. Watson, a Honolulu attorney who is also representing Kathleen Watson and the proposed class in the action.

According to the complaint, Kathleen Watson was the lead plaintiff in a prior successful airline fraud lawsuit. That suit, brought in the late 1970s, mirrored a similar suit brought by Ralph Nader, the five-time candidate for President.

Nader, known for his consumer activism, brought a lawsuit against 19 different airlines in 1976. He accused the airlines of fraudulent misrepresentation. He argued the airlines failed to disclose their policies of deliberately overbooking flights.

“Class Plaintiff is well qualified to represent the proposed class plaintiffs herein as this action is very similar to Class Plaintiff’s prior successful airline fraud suit,” the complaint states. “Both cases are airline fraud by omission cases.”

Kathleen Watson argues that unaccompanied suitcases have led to the downing of large passenger airplanes.

“Increasing the amount of ‘unaccompanied suitcases’ on passenger airplanes is obviously not in the best interests of the safety of the airline passengers,” she explained, pointing to the 1988 Lockerbie Boeing 747 downing and a jumbo jet 747 that was downed by an unaccompanied suitcase in 1985.

The plaintiff contends that United, which is based in Chicago, has an undisclosed checked baggage policy that maximizes the unaccompanied suitcases on each departing passenger flight to increase the room available for “more profitable” non-passenger, last-minute express air cargo on later departing passenger flights.

Under the policy, the plaintiff alleges, the goal is to not put the passenger’s checked bag on his flight with him, but, essentially, to automatically make every passenger’s checked bag an unaccompanied suitcase on a second earlier departing plane.

“Under the United Airlines undisclosed checked baggage policy that maximizes ‘unaccompanied suitcases’ on its passenger flights, it appears that, a person could simply look up two of its flights to the same destination three or four hours apart, buy a ticket for the later flight and check in his suitcase early (with the earlier flight),” Watson’s complaint states. “Then, under its undisclosed checked baggage policy that maximizes ‘unaccompanied suitcases,’ that person’s checked bag will not be put on his later flight, but will automatically become an ‘unaccompanied suitcase’ on the earlier departing flight. After checking in his suitcase, the person simply leaves the airport.”

By the time it’s realized the person did not board his later flight, that earlier departing flight -- with the person’s “unaccompanied suitcase” -- has been airborne for well over an hour or more, the plaintiff alleges.

Watson contends United’s policy has enabled it to make added profits from increasing the non-passenger air cargo it carried on its passenger flights.

“By Defendant United Airlines’ introduction of its undisclosed checked baggage policy that maximizes ‘unaccompanied suitcases’ it was able to place more non-passenger air cargo on its passenger flights and, thus, add larger air cargo profits from its passenger flights, to its already huge profits from checked baggage fees and other such ancillary passenger fees -- it had more than $5.7 billion in yearly revenue in 2013 from its checked baggage fees and other such ancillary passenger fees -- the highest of any airline and over twice that of any other airline,” the complaint states.

She argues that United’s policy jeopardizes the safety of its passengers, and that it isn’t mitigated because all checked bags are supposed to be properly inspected for explosives by the Transportation Security Administration.

“No explosive detection system is perfect in real world situations,” the plaintiff noted.

“As United Airlines is well aware, the TSA inspections of checked bags for explosives is very far from perfect and has been determined to be seriously deficient in many ways by the findings of the Office of the Inspector General, as reviewed below.”

In May 2015, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, released a report entitled, “The Transportation Security Administration Does Not Properly Manage Its Airport Screening Equipment Maintenance Program.”

Watson, in her action, seeks to certify three proposed classes:

* Those who paid United consideration for a ticket on one of its passenger flights, and who flew on one of its passenger flights, when it had its undisclosed checked baggage policy that maximized the “unaccompanied suitcases” on its passenger flights -- i.e. the passenger class;

* Those who paid United a checked baggage fee (in addition to consideration for a ticket) when they flew on one of its passenger flights, when it had its undisclosed checked baggage policy that maximized the “unaccompanied suitcases” on its passenger flights -- i.e. the checked baggage fee class; and

* Those who paid United a checked baggage fee (in addition to consideration for a ticket) when they flew on one of its passenger flights, when it had its undisclosed checked baggage policy that maximized the “unaccompanied suitcases” on its passenger flights, and had their checked bag delayed at their ultimate destination because their bag was placed on a second earlier departing plane than their passenger flight because of the undisclosed checked baggage policy -- i.e. the checked baggage fee with delayed bags subclass.

All three proposed class periods are presently set from Jan. 1, 2010 to present.

The action seeks declaratory judgment, compensatory damages, punitive damages, pre-judgment and post-judgment interest, and attorney’s fees, among other relief.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

Organizations in this Story

United Airlines
233 South Wacker Drive
Chicago, IL 60606

Transportation Security Administration
601 12th St S
Arlington, VA 22202

Get notified the next time we write about any of these organizations!

More News