Strike of Ryanair, Lufthansa, Transavia… In the European sky, the summer was marked by a cascade of flight cancellations. If these disturbances have spoiled the departures or returns of many vacationers, some have been happy: passenger compensation specialists see the files flowing in this end of summer, offering them a long-awaited breath of fresh air.
At least a dozen companies share the market in Europe. They help victims of flight cancellations or delays to recover the compensation provided for by European regulations: from 250 to 600 euros depending on the distance of the flight. For this they charge a commission in case of success (and only in this case): generally around 30% of the sum, a percentage that rises to 45 or even 50% if the case has to go to court. This very lucrative form of consumer protection feeds on a double deficiency: that of the airlines, who are reluctant to pay these compensations, and that of consumers who are unaware of their rights… or prefer to avoid the paperwork to assert themselves! !
These online platforms flirt with disgruntled passengers with social media ads and Google keyword buys. They boast of their deep knowledge of the regulations. To aspire to receive compensation, the flight must have been canceled less than fifteen days in advance or delayed more than three hours, all for reasons attributable to the company.
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At Air Indemnité, an SME based in Boulogne-Billancourt (Hauts-de-Seine), activity is intense at the moment, confirms Jérémy Rozenberg, director of development: “Summer always represents a peak of activity for us: requests increase from mid-June, reaching their peak between the end of August and mid-September. For its part, Flightright, a platform born in Germany, claims to have received almost twice as many cases related to flights departing from Paris-Charles de Gaulle between June and August 2022 than in the same period in 2019.
The pandemic has seriously shaken the platforms
Meanwhile, the Covid had paralyzed or almost paralyzed these platforms. The absence of air traffic, or its very abrupt reduction, deprived them of new passengers to accompany them in their disputes. And for ongoing cases, with airlines on edge and courts overcrowded, resolution times have skyrocketed. What accentuates the pressure on this activity that usually requires cash: these companies do not receive anything as long as the company has not paid compensation.
Therefore, the impact was severe. Air Help, market leader present in some thirty countries, employed 800 people before the crisis. He has 300 left. “We haven’t received massive public subsidies unlike the airlines,” screeches Tomasz Pawliszyn, CEO of Air Help. The French Air Indemnité has also reduced the airfoil (from 40 to 20 employees). Six months before the first confinement, it had raised four million euros to finance its European expansion. Naturally, the project was put on hold with the pandemic. “It should be finished in the next few months,” says Jérémy Rozenberg. Even the association UFC-Que Choisir, which had launched its own service in 2014 (it was managed, as a subcontractor, by Air Indemnité, according to our information), discreetly canceled it in January 2021. The consumer association considered that the processing times were too long.
Increase or limit compensation?
Today, when its activity is just restarting, a new threat looms: that of a reform of the European regulation 2004/261, which provides for the compensation of passengers. “It is not clear enough for both passengers and companies,” we noted at Airlines for Europe (A4E), the airline lobby in Brussels. In recent weeks, he has renewed pressure to limit these costly allocations: “We hope that the Czech presidency of the Council of the European Union will restart discussions this fall.”
Airlines for Europe (A4E) wants to clarify the notion of “extraordinary circumstances”, which allows companies to escape compensation, but is not defined by European regulations. The companies also point to the fixed amount of compensation, disproportionate to the price of low-cost tickets. And he addresses, in passing, the offset hunters: “These agencies are very poorly regulated. They are above all third parties who seek to take advantage of the compensation process of the European regulation 261”.
At the campsite across the street, we show our confidence in upholding the rules that protect passengers…and your business! “Restricting consumer rights at a time when companies are raising ticket prices and offering lower quality service is a lot for the European Commission to accept,” said Tomasz Pawliszyn of Air Help. The platforms sharpen their own arguments. In unison, they ask for an increase in the amount of compensation based on inflation. Its amount, fixed more than fifteen years ago, has not changed since then.
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