DOT seeks details on airline antitrust immunity


DALLAS – Federal regulators have asked Continental Airlines Inc. and its prospective partners for more information about their request to add Continental to an alliance that already enjoys immunity from antitrust laws.

Four airlines – Continental, United, Lufthansa and Air Canada – are also seeking approval to operate a trans-Atlantic joint venture.

The Department of Transportation said in a notice dated Wednesday that it wanted updated documents, clarification about when Continental would join the Star Alliance, and how the move would help consumers.

Many of the world’s largest airlines are divided into three alliances – teams in which partner airlines sell seats on each other’s flights and offer reciprocal frequent-flier benefits.

Continental wants to jump from SkyTeam to the Star Alliance, which includes UAL Corp.’s United Airlines, Lufthansa and Air Canada. It decided against joining the third team, oneworld, which includes American Airlines and British Airways.

Continental wants Transportation Department approval to take advantage of antitrust immunity that lets Star Alliance members work together on pricing and scheduling of trans-Atlantic flights.

The Transportation Department said this week that it examined the evidence submitted by Continental and the Star Alliance but needs more detailed information.

Such requests by regulators are not unusual in antitrust-immunity applications.

The regulators also asked the airlines about their future plans, including whether they have discussed inviting US Airways Group Inc. to join the antitrust exemption.

Officials from Continental, United and US Airways did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.