- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2000

Continental Airlines Inc. yesterday sued United Airlines and authorities at Washington Dulles International Airport, claiming that a new system for limiting the size of carry-on bags is stifling competition.

United, the nation's largest air carrier, on April 15 installed baggage-sizing templates at the airport's two X-ray security screening checkpoints in order to limit the size and number of bags that passengers take on planes.

Continental, the nation's No. 5 air carrier, shares the checkpoints with United and other airlines, though United is in charge of their operation.

An increasing number of passengers in recent years have opted to carry on more bags to save time and keep them from getting lost. But some industry officials say that stowing so many bags in the cabin of the plane has contributed to delays.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, claims that United, the leading air carrier at Dulles, conspired with airport officials to block Continental's effort to win over passengers with a more open carry-on policy.

Continental, hoping to win a larger piece of the express air-travel market, has sought to accommodate passengers' growing demand for more cabin space for their bags. The Houston-based airline in 1998 spent $15 million to outfit 187 of its planes with larger bins to make room for popular roll-on bags.

"In their quest to prevent customers from carrying their bags on board, airlines like United are thwarting our ability to compete on the basis of offering a superior product that accommodates a broader range of travelers' needs," Continental said in a statement.

Continental wants the templates removed and is seeking damages to cover the cost of business it claims to be losing because of the new system.

Dulles airport officials involved in the decision to install the system were unavailable for comment.

While a United spokeswoman would not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, she defended the Chicago-based airline's use of the templates that sit above the conveyor belt at security checkpoints and block large bags from passing through the X-ray machine.

"Baggage templates allow us to deliver a better product to our customers by facilitating faster boarding and more efficient on-time operations," said spokeswoman Susana Leyva.

"The templates have proven very popular with our customers in all markets where they exist," she added.

United first installed the templates in October 1998 at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, and put them in place in 25 cities.

Continental in 1998 filed an identical suit against another rival, Atlanta-based Delta Airlines Inc., which had installed templates at San Diego International Airport. The airlines settled that suit and the devices were removed.

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