Airlines Sue Each Other Over Espionage

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It reads like something out of a cheap spy novel but a bitter lawsuit between two Canadian airlines may also be a window into the cutthroat competition that has developed between WestJet and Air Canada. In April, Air Canada launched a lawsuit accusing WestJet of gleaning confidential information about passenger loads from its Web site by using an access code reserved for employees booking themselves onto flights. Late last month, WestJet countersued, claiming Air Canada had hired private detectives to go through the recycling bags of a senior WestJet executive, collecting confidential shredded documents and then paying to have the paperwork reconstituted. In its suit, Air Canada claims that by using the access code of a former employee, who now works for WestJet, the cut-rate carrier was able to look at Air Canada's passenger loads and adjust its marketing and operating strategies accordingly. WestJet's counterclaim says there are no declarations on the Air Canada site saying the information is confidential and, in any case, the employee involved only used the access code to satisfy his own curiosity and not for commercial gain. Air Canada claims the former employee's access code was used 243,630 times between May of 2003 and March of 2004. A judge will rule today on an injunction application from Air Canada to stop WestJet from using the information it obtained from the Web site. No trial date for the main lawsuit has been set.