Fare-Discount Newsletter Loses Battle to Get Trial Dismissed
NEW YORK (AP) _ In the David-and-Goliath battle between American Airlines and a tiny newsletter that lists discount air fares, the giant has won the first round.
But the publisher of Travel Confidential, Paul L. Edwards, says he’ll keep fighting the racketeering and fraud lawsuit filed against him by American, though a federal judge refused to dismiss the case on First Amendment grounds.
″We’re going to keep publishing and we’re going to keep fighting,″ Edwards said Friday. ″Even if the thing proceeds to trial on this basis, in order for American to prevail, the jury still has to find me guilty of fraud.″
Travel Confidential irritated American last March, when Edwards started publishing the monthly newsletter from that lists discount air fares available for people going to conventions and other special events around the country.
Airlines offer cheap fares to such groups in order to attract business in quantity from their members. The airlines give each group a special code number that people use when booking the discount tickets, which on American can be 5 percent to 40 percent cheaper than the going rate.
Edwards gets the code numbers by putting his name on hundreds of mailing lists and says he is merely exercising his First Amendment rights by compiling and publishing them in his small New York-based newsletter.
But American says Edwards is encouraging consumers to cheat the airline by buying discount tickets they are not supposed to get. American’s suit seeks an order that would force Edwards to stop distributing the discount fare codes to his 1,000 or so subscribers.
Travel Confidential asked U.S. District Judge Kenneth Conboy to throw out American’s suit on First Amendment grounds, but the judge refused.
″The newsletter can, at some points, be read as advising its readers fraudulently to identify themselves as convention-goers so that they can qualify for AA Meeting Saver Fares,″ the judge wrote.
Conboy’s ruling, signed Monday, said Travel Confidential should be classified as ″commercial speech,″ likening it to advertising, which has less First Amendment protection than other printed materials. A trial date has not yet been set.
″That is in our opinion a critical issue,″ American spokesman Marty Heires said from the carrier’s headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas. ″We were pleased that the court has decided to hear this case on its merits and did not summarily dismiss it.″
Edwards called the judge’s ruling ″one of the worst decisions to ever come down.″
″The finding that the newsletter is commercial speech is absolutely mind- boggling,″ Edwards said. ″Commercial speech is advertising. The newsletter is pure editorial.″
The judge noted that after the first three issues of Travel Confidential, when American filed its lawsuit, Edwards started publishing in each issue a ″warning,″ saying that:
″Special air fares are intended only for eligible persons. If an airline detects misuse, it may refuse to honor the ticket.″
But the judge wrote it was not clear ″whether this warning alone is sufficient to counter those portions of the newsletter that encourage nonconvention-goers to apply for Meeting Saver Fares.″