ATLANTA, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Delta Air Lines Inc (DAL.N) was charged in a federal lawsuit on Tuesday with conspiring to obtain emails and computer files of the founder of a group that has been urging the U.S. Congress to pass legislation that would protect rights of airline travelers.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Houston, names Atlanta-based Delta and Metron Aviation Inc, of Dulles, Virginia, an aviation research firm, as defendants. It seeks at least $11 million in actual and punitive damages, according to the complaint.
"Obviously, the idea that Delta would hack into someone's email is clearly without merit," Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter said in an emailed statement. "Since this involves pending litigation, we cannot comment further."
Kathleen Hanni, executive director and founder of the Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights, which is also called FlyersRights.org, filed suit after her emails were obtained by the defendants, her lawyer said in a statement.
"Defendants conspired to hack or obtain hacked information from plantiffs' computer and AOL account, with the purpose of derailing the 'Airline Passenger Bill of Rights of 2009,'" the complaint states.
The lawsuit alleges the email hacking began in 2008 and continued this year while Hanni was consulting with a Metron Aviation employee who was hired by the Federal Aviation Administration to analyze airline delays. Delta is a client of Metron's, according to the suit.
Metron said in a statement emailed to Reuters: "Any allegations that suggest Metron Aviation has behaved illegally or improperly in this matter are completely baseless and without merit."
The lawsuit said that thanks to efforts of Hanni's group, there are currently four airline passenger rights bills before Congress. The legislation would, among other things, require carriers to let travelers deplane if they have been delayed on the tarmac for more than three hours.