The deadline for public comments has just passed for Dallas-based American Airlines’ request for antitrust immunity for its alliance with British Airways and Iberia Airlines. In a statement, American Airlines positioned the support that these oneworld partners have among U.S. airports and public officials; the alliance also includes Finnair and Royal Jordanian.

But it didn’t help American’s case to have U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood publicly endorsing the alliance 10 days prior to the Transportation Department’s deadline of May 18 to receive public comments for antitrust and final comments from American and British Airways by May 28.

“LaHood has been forced to rule himself out of the decision” to grant antitrust immunity because of his recent comments to endorse the alliance, The Telegraph (UK) reports, adding that LaHood said “these alliances are life-savers for airlines. That is the premise from which we start. We believe it. The airlines believe it. And so we are going to continue to pursue those kinds of opportunities where we have them.”

It has also been reported that LaHood previously disqualified himself from reviewing American’s application, but never shared that decision until recently — only after the he made the public comments that endorsed American.

The Telegraph also reported that Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson labeled the U.S. antitrust decision a “political process” as opposed to a “pure competition process as is the case in Europe.”

Branson may be referring to a decision last month (April 2009) by the European Commission to investigate anti-competitive implications behind the oneworld alliance among American, British Airways and Iberia Airlines, as well as a Star Alliance relationship that brings together Air Canada, Continental, Lufthansa and United Airlines. It’s worth noting that Continental received its U.S. antitrust immunity in April 2009 to join Star Alliance.

In August 2008, American Airlines, Iberia and British Airways signed a joint business agreement on flights between North America and Europe and plan to expand their global cooperation.

Originally Published March 19, 2009