plane.jpgForty-nine air travelers from 15 states filed an antitrust lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco today seeking to block the planned merger of United Air Lines and Continental Airlines.

The proposed merger of Chicago-based United and Houston-based Continental was announced in May. It would be called United and would be based in Chicago, and it would create the world’s largest airline in terms of revenue-producing passenger miles.

The lawsuit claims the merger would violate the federal Clayton Antitrust Act by reducing competition and thereby raising prices and decreasing service for consumers.

“The United/Continental merger is a blatant violation of our antitrust laws, which were designed to preserve and encourage competition for the benefit of the people,” said Joseph M. Alioto, a San Francisco lawyer representing the plaintiffs.

He said monopolies lead to, “higher prices, less and more expensive service, loss of jobs, perpetuation of mediocrity and obsolescence, and a total and complete disregard for the public.”

The two airlines issued similar statements saying they believe the lawsuit lacks merit.

“We will vigorously defend what we strongly believe to be a transaction that is in the best interests of Continental, its shareholders and the flying public,” Continental spokesman Christen David said.

The merger must receive the approval of antitrust regulators in the U.S. Department of Justice. Representatives of the two airlines have said they hope to complete the process by the end of this year.

“We are cooperating with the Department of Justice as they thoroughly review our merger, which will benefit customers with the most comprehensive route network, connecting people across the world and the United States,” United spokeswoman Jean Medina said.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction blocking the merger. No date has been set for a hearing.

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