“No Show” clause causes contention

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Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport

Most travelers are aware that if you miss the first leg of a return ticket on many major airlines, you forfeit the remainder of the trip. This is called the “no show” clause, which is buried in the terms you agree to when you make the initial purchase.

It is very quickly developing into a hot button issue, as earlier this week the consumer watchdog website Which? confronted multiple airlines for what it calls a breach of the Consumer Rights Act, and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Directive, by including the notorious clause.

This is nothing new, as passengers have been fighting against the clause for some time. Some might remember last year, when a London man won a court case against Iberia for enacting the “no show” clause on him. As a result, he continued on the rest of his holiday as planned, unperturbed, and left Iberia to pick up the tab.

This might be surprising to hear about coming from a Spanish airline, as German and Spanish courts already ruled “no show” clauses as being an unethical practice way back in 2016.

Now, with several other European consumer watchdog companies becoming outspoken on the matter, it seems some airlines are changing their policies.

Which? has uncovered that hardly any of the low-cost carriers have a the clause, and that this is a feature common of the big names, like British Airways, KLM, and Virgin Atlantic. When directly confronted by Which?, Channel Island carrier Aurigny admitted to having the clause, but agreed it had to go and scrapped it on the spot.

These are some of the changes we are pushing for at #KeepTheAirFair. Please take a moment to sign our petition here.

The curious case of PrimeraAir

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There is nothing more exciting than going through the motions of booking a flight, only to find the exact one you need for hundreds of pounds less than you anticipated. This past June, whilst searching for end-of-summer flights to the U.K. from my home in Boston, Massachusetts, I found myself looking at the deal of a lifetime.

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The cheapest one-way I have ever seen

A relatively unknown (but not new) airline, PrimeraAir, was making major waves this year in the low-cost transatlantic market by offering up one-way flights from the U.K. to the United States (or vice versa) for well under £100. I learned that this fare was made possible by operating these routes using Boeing 737-MAX aircrafts (think Ryanair), a less than ideal aluminum tube to spend 6+ hours in, so I decided against it and moved on.

As the summer wore on, so did PrimeraAir’s seemingly endless announcements of new routes. As late as August the airline seemed unstoppable. That is, until it all came to a grinding hault.

As European passengers landed in the North American cities of their dreams, ready to experience a once-in-a-lifetime vacation in Boston, or New York City; PrimeraAir had different plans. On October 1st, the airline ceased operations completely, leaving untold thousands of passengers stranded.

Does this story sound familiar? Well, thats because it is. Almost one year ago to the day, Monarch, the U.K.’s longest running airline, ceased operation in the middle of the night when it failed to renew its operators licensing. Monarch is said to have left more than 100,000 U.K. citizens stranded abroad.

What do these two epic failures have in common? They both operated in a completely removed area of the aviation world known as charter.

How do they differ? Charter operators based in the U.K. are required to obtain an Air Travel Organisers’ License (an ATOL), which is essentially an insurance scheme that issues protections to buyers when purchasing trips with package operators.

In the case of Monarch, all affected passengers were able to make claims and obtain a refund because of the ATOL scheme, regardless of if they obtained their tickets through a holiday operator, or directly from the airline. In fact, the U.K. government teamed up with the Civil Aviation Authority to essentially create a fleet of 60 aircraft and crews out of thin air to help bring all 100k stranded passengers home to their families.

Unfortunately PrimeraAir, which was a Danish-based operator, did not have an ATOL license; thus creating a nightmare situation for stranded passengers. When they ceased operation, the airline also filed for bankruptcy and created a dead end for anyone seeking a refund, assistance, or compensation. Even passengers who had paid for tickets on future flights did not receive a refund, and are now apparently just happy new owners of a piece of Primera’s remaining assets.

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Good guy Norwegian

Fortunately there is still hope for humanity, as Norwegian chopped their already cheap fares in half to help rescue passengers stranded abroad.

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Sky high customer service

As flying gets cheaper, are the airlines still valuing the passengers?

Photo by Jean Beaufort, CC0 Public Domain
Photo by Jean Beaufort, CC0 Public Domain

Back when passenger aviation first took off, it was a luxury only the rich could afford. In 1955, flight from New York to London would have set you back £155, which, adjusted for inflation, equals around £4,412 in today’s money. 

Traveling throught the air was an event, folks would drink and smoke their way a full 15 hour across the ocean, dressed like Howard Huges and Jean Peters and enjoying there time lounging in what was essentially a flying yacht club. There is a reason it’s referred to the golden age of travel.

Many aspects of flying have left their golden years behind: the legroom, the excess luggage, the glamour; but also taking a tumble downward towards the tarmac are the fares.

This is all particularly true in the European Union, which in 2006 enacted the ECAA agreement and thus created a single aviation market. This agreement enables any European airline to compete directly with any other European airline, regardless of the route and country of origin. It subsequently created the intensely competitive, oversaturated market that we know and love today, and is commonly referred to as ‘5th freedom flights’.

What about safety, you ask? Well it has never been safer to travel by airplane, either. In fact, 2017 was the safest year for air travel since 1926 in both numbers of accidents and fatalities, according to the Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives. Going 650mph through the air in an aluminum tube at an altitude of 40,000 feet has become safer than riding a bicycle, statistically.graph.png

Okay, so it’s cheap and it’s safe, what’s the catch?

Thankfully, for the most part there is no catch. Passengers traveling within the E.U., or passengers traveling on a European airline anywhere, enjoy a plethora of protections brought to us by the E.U. Flight Compensation Regulation 261/04.

 The regulation basically says this: If your flight was delayed more than 2 hours or canceled, for virtually any reason, you are due compensation. This regulation, combined with the extremely competitive airspace, causes European airlines to face the highest operating costs of all aviation markets globally.

For low-cost airlines, these compensation packages can be as high as 40X the customer’s original fare, so it’s no surprise they occasionally withhold payouts, or even refuse to pay at all. This pushback, however, seems to reflect highly on the current value of the passengers in these markets. Some airlines are even continuing to add new fees and charges to their terms.

Skytrax, which essentially awards the Michelin star of the airline industry, only lists one European airline (Lufthansa) in it’s 2018 global top 10 list. Airhelp, which rates airlines on a combination of performance, service, and ease of claim processing, shows European airlines filling 8 of the top 20 spots on their worst airlines list, including taking the gold (WOW Air).

Even the U.K. rail industry is making progress in regards to passenger relations. Last month we saw the creation of the Rail Ombudsman, a non-profit organization offering free legal advice and aid to displaced passengers. They will also deal directly with complaints, and address passenger rights violations against the carriers.

Progress is still being made in the European aviation market, but with Brexit around the corner and the ECAA in question, it’s only a matter of time before we see big changes.

Paying to claim: the dark side of the air passenger compensation claim industry

The E.U. has a secret underbelly of unnecessary claim assistance companies, but why?

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Photo by Al Jezeera, licensed by cc-by-sa-2.0.

When your flight is delayed or cancelled, chances are it will create more issues than just getting home late. Missed connections and trains will create the initial headache, but the it starts to affect your family, work, or school; leaving you with a huge mess to clean up.

Luckily for us in Europe, we have the handy EC 261/04 regulation, which offers us some financial protection from the hardships a flight change can create.

But how easy is it to get make a claim?

We headed to Manchester’s Ringway Int’l Airport and surveyed 50 people about their experiences with delayed flights and compensation claims, here is what we found:

Out of 50 people who had flights delayed or cancelled in the past two years:

  • Only 21 filed a claim
  • 11 of those used a claim compensation assistance website and all received a settlement
  • Out of the 10 who filed themselves, only 3 won a settlement.

During this time we spoke with Karim Bohorquez, a Spanish national living in the Netherlands. He experienced a nightmare scenario this past summer on a flight between Amsterdam and Barcelona, which clocked in a delay of more than 3 hours.

He knew his rights, and decided to file a claim through their built-in online claim service. “It sure was not because of the weather,” he said. “I think it was because of strikes in France, but no one told me, or offered me, anything.”

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It took them more than 28 days to send a response.

According to the email Karim received, the airline claim they are not obliged to pay due to extraordinary circumstances; which in this case was the air traffic controller strike in France. However, many airlines did pay out during these strikes. Some airlines even issued a complaint to the E.U. transportation commission about being held responsible, asking them to help foot the bill.

More recently, a law suit was filed by the Civil Aviation Authority claiming industry strikes are not a valid reason for declining compensation.

Regardless of what other airlines did, or claim to have done, the fact remains that Karim was not offered food, drinks, or complimentary rerouting after being delayed more than 3 hours; which, according to EC 261/04, is the responsibility of the airline regardless of delay factors.

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This issue is becoming so common that it has created an entirely new industry of businesses offering compensation claim assistance. So massive, in fact, that attempting a quick google search for flight compensation information will result in hundreds of assistance websites asking for 25-50% commission on your settlement.

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Compensation assistance? I need that!

These companies can definitely be effective in getting your claim viewed, approved, and sent, but unfortunately this market is oversaturated with scams and misdirection. It really boils down to one thing: if they charge you at all, it’s a scam.

According to a 2017 article from The Guardian, some of these businesses have been accused of assigning debt to customers, even going as far as sending collections to their door. Using a for-profit model, these businesses are simply offering to take a large percentage of your money for nothing. In fact, closer examination of the fine print will often reveal much higher fees than initially advertised, sometimes resulting in the claim costing the inconvenienced passenger hundreds of pounds in the end.

This is not always the case, of course. Some airlines and airports offer official partnerships with alternative dispute resolution (or ADR) companies. These companies will handle your claim free of charge, all the while offering you guidance and support through the entire process.

The solution is very simple, and ill say it again: never pay for your claim. When going forward with a claim, always make multiple attempts. Your first attempt at a claim on your own by follow the guide we have posted here and use the CAA’s template for the initial email. If your first attempt to get compensation doesn’t work on your own, reach out to an appropriate ADR to help you.

If you believe we need more justice for these types of issues, please sign our change.org