American Airlines wins $5 million in antitrust case against Sabre

By By Nate RaymondFeaturesReuters

American Airlines Group Inc on Tuesday was awarded nearly $5.1 million in an antitrust lawsuit that accused airline booking service Sabre Corp of harming competition and charging grossly inflated booking fees.

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The verdict was a fraction of the up to $73 million that American Airlines, suing under its former name US Airways, sought at trial.

A federal jury in Manhattan found Southlake, Texas-based Sabre liable for unreasonably restraining trade through contractual provisions. Under federal antitrust laws, the sum awarded by the jury can be tripled to $15 million.

The jury rejected a separate claim that Sabre had conspired with its competitors to not compete with each other.

Chuck Diamond, a lawyer for the airlines, said he was "obviously very gratified" by the verdict, which came in a lawsuit filed in 2011 by US Airways prior to its 2013 merger with American Airlines, whose name the merged company adopted.

Sabre in a statement said it continues to believe it operated "fairly and lawfully." The company said it would seek to have the verdict set aside and, if unsuccessful, pursue an appeal.

The case concerned fees that Sabre and other travel reservation systems collect from airlines to display flights for booking.

At trial, Diamond had contended that Sabre used its power in the industry to "bully" airlines into paying unfair fees and signing unfair contracts that suppress competition and maintain its position.

The lawsuit claimed that provisions of a 2011 contract between US Airways and Sabre, including those governing what fares the airline makes available to a computerized network by Sabre used by travel agents, harmed competition.

The airline also contended that Sabre conspired with its two competitors in the industry to not compete with each other for airline content like flight and fare information at the expense of consumers and innovation.

Sabre denied conspiring with competitors, and said its contract with US Airways benefited competition. Chris Lind, a lawyer for Sabre, told jurors US Airways was far from powerless as it could leave the network, causing agents to stop using it.

The case is US Airways Inc v. Sabre Holdings Corp et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 11-cv-2725.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Leslie Adler)