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A luggage cart drives by a Southwest plane at terminal in BWI Airport. (File)

Frosh talking to counterparts about DOJ airline investigation

The Department of Justice confirmed on July 1 that it was opening an investigation into the largest U.S. airlines for possible collusion, and a travel advocacy group is hoping that state attorneys general will join the fight.

The next day, the Business Travel Coalition sent a letter to the attorneys general in 34 states, including Maryland, asking them to think more broadly about the problem of insufficient airline competition and to engage with it on a national level.

Although Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh was noncommittal about the letter, his office indicated that it is in contact with its correlates in other states about the matter—and opening up a dialogue between state attorneys general is the chief goal for Kevin Mitchell, the BTC’s chairman.

“I would hope that they would gather together—there’s usually a group of 15-20 states that engage in aviation issues—they would put this on one of their upcoming conference calls or meetings and explore what it is that they may do,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell added that he has worked with state attorneys general in the past and that, based on that experience, intervention from them would aid the Department of Justice’s efforts.

“When the state attorneys general get engaged in an issue, whether it’s the breakup of Microsoft or banking, they are careful to choose where they’re going to spend their time and money, and when they do, they’re a very powerful ally to the federal government,” he said.

The letter included a series of reform proposals, including reviewing antitrust immunity and allowing foreign airlines, such as Norwegian Air International, to serve customers on domestic U.S. flights.

Mitchell said he expects the group of attorneys general to be receptive to the letter’s suggestions.

“I do have hope because this is an experienced group of litigators that understand where we are in the evolution of the airline industry and they realize that in some cases, if not a lot of cases, the airlines are running roughshod over consumers,” he said.

The full statement from Frosh’s office, from Communications Director David Nitkin, is as follows:

“The Maryland Office of the Attorney General does not comment on the state of current or potential investigations by the Justice Department or other states. The letter from the coalition, however, raises important questions that impact many Marylanders, and are worthy of review by the Justice Department. Our office is in communication with our counterparts in other states, and we intend to closely monitor these activities to ensure a competitive marketplace for travelers.”

The full letter from the BTC to state attorneys general can be found at http://www.businesstravelcoalition.com/press-room/2015/july-2—btc-letter-to.html