Delta execs fight American Airlines' bid to testify at antitrust trial

REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
  • Delta's Boies Schiller attorneys say court appearance is "undue" burden
  • Bench trial Sept. 27 in U.S. case against American Airlines, JetBlue alliance

Two senior executives at Delta Air Lines Inc on Wednesday urged a Boston federal judge to block a bid by American Airlines Group Inc to force them to testify at an upcoming antitrust trial over an alliance between American and JetBlue.

Lawyers for Delta president Glen Hauenstein, the second-highest-ranking executive at the airline, and Joseph Esposito, senior vice president of Delta's network planning, argued in a court filing that testifying would pose a "heavy and unwarranted burden" in the U.S. Justice Department's civil antitrust lawsuit against American over its arrangement with JetBlue.

Atlanta-based Delta is not a party in the litigation, in which the DOJ and six states last year sued Fort Worth-based American Airlines to stop a partnership with JetBlue Airways Corp. The complaint alleged the alliance would curb competition in the Northeast airline market and could lead to higher fares.

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American Airlines' lawyers at Latham & Watkins said they want Hauenstein and Esposito to testify about how Delta responded to the American and JetBlue alliance. The airlines have denied their partnership, in effect for 18 months, has harmed consumers.

A bench trial is set to begin next before U.S. District Judge Leo Sorokin.

An attorney for Delta and the two executives on Thursday did not immediately comment. A Delta spokesperson declined to comment.

American Airlines' lawyers in the case also did not immediately reply to a request for comment. An American spokesperson declined to comment.

American Airlines, the largest airline in the world, and JetBlue have said in court filings that their partnership has offered expanded services to travelers between New York and Boston.

Lawyers at Boies Schiller Flexner for Delta, Hauenstein and Esposito argued American Airlines waited too long to try to compel their attendance at trial. Boies Schiller's Michael Mitchell said an order compelling their testimony “at this late stage [would] upend their schedules and preexisting commitments."

A federal judge in Georgia earlier this year blocked American Airlines' bid to depose Hauenstein, Delta's president since 2016.

Esposito sat for a deposition earlier in the litigation, and his lawyers said American Airlines should be told to rely on those statements for any trial purposes.

"Defendants should not now be permitted to impose the burden on Mr. Esposito of preparing for and attending a trial in Boston just so they can get a second bite at the apple,” a lawyer for Delta said.

The case is United States v. American Airlines Group Inc, U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, No. 1:21-cv-11558-LTS.

For plaintiffs: William Jones II of the Justice Department; representatives from plaintiff states including California and Pennsylvania

For American Airlines: Daniel Wall of Latham & Watkins

For JetBlue: Richard Schwed of Shearman & Sterling

For Delta Air Lines: Michael Mitchell of Boies Schiller Flexner

Read more:

american airlines seeks delta execs' testimony in u.s. trial over jetblue deal

u.s. antitrust lawsuit against american, jetblue to go forward, judge says

u.s. sues to stop american airlines, jetblue partnership

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