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Wed, Mar 19, 2008

Skycaps Sue American Airlines Over Baggage Fee

Says Tips Have Dropped Since Charge Was Enacted

A group of skycaps for American Airlines are taking their employer to court, saying the carrier's $2-per-bag fee for curbside check-in is taking money out of their pockets, in the interest of corporate greed.

The skycaps say the fee has led to a marked dropoff in the amount of their tips... which, like food service workers, make up most of their hourly pay.

But passengers aren't willing to shell out more money for tips, the skycaps say, on top of the $2 charge... or, they don't know the fee doesn't include a tip.

The group's lawsuit is ambitious... perhaps overly so. According to USA Today, the skycaps are calling for American to reimburse them for all tips lost by skycaps in the three years since the fee began. Trouble is, it's hard to determine just what that amount might be.

"We are looking for fairness for the hardworking employees who every day help passengers -- making travel a little bit easier," said attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan, who represents the skycaps who filed the lawsuit. "Some of these guys have worked for 20, 30 or 40 years as skycaps. This is their profession. These guys' lives were devastated by this."

The attorney declined to put a number on the amount of tips skycaps haven't received in three years, but adds "[w]e know that American Airlines has made millions of dollars off of this charge."

The group suing American includes nine skycaps at Boston Logan, and one who works at Lambert Field in St. Louis. The lawsuit claims American has violated the Massachusetts Tips Law, by failing to distribute the new fee throughout the skycap ranks.

American Airlines' attorneys wouldn't comment on the case during jury selection Monday. Opening statements were due to begin Tuesday.

It will be interesting to see how the trial proceeds. American wasn't alone in imposing baggage fees; most US airlines -- faced with slumping fortunes and, for many, bankruptcy proceedings -- now charge passengers for services that previously were free. United, Northwest, and US Airways also charge for skycap service.

American says it posted signs at several locations, alerting customers to the new fee. Skycaps added their own signs, noting the fee did NOT include a tip.

"Skycaps are still permitted, as before, to accept tips from passengers who choose to tip them," American said in an earlier court filing. "The evidence will show that customers understood the fee was not a tip for the skycaps from day one. The evidence will further show that the plaintiffs cannot demonstrate any decrease in tip income resulting directly from American's implementation of the fee-based program."

FMI: www.aa.com

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