Copenhagen - Denmark-based travel buying consortium TravelpoolEurope has sued SAS for refusing to accept a bulk claim for compensation for flight delays and cancellations. Covering a three-year period, the claim made on behalf of TPE members' travelers is for an estimated 3 million to 5 million Danish kroner (US$514,000 to US$857,000). It relates to a European Union regulation on air passenger rights for flights from EU airports, known commonly as EU 261. Speaking to The Beat during the Association of Corporate Travel Executives conference here this week, TPE managing director Søren Schødt said he expects a ruling on Oct, 28 on the legal action lodged with the Copenhagen District Court earlier this year.
TPE has 30 members across 23 countries that collectively spend 200 million Danish kroner (US$34.3 million) annually on air travel. The consortium matched its passenger records with a database of delays and cancellations provided by flyforsinkelse.dk, a business specializing in handling EU 261 compensation claims for passengers.
Carriers have proved very obstructive to claims made directly by affected passengers. They deeply resent EU 261, which requires airlines to compensate passengers up to €600 for involuntary denied boardings, cancellations and delays of more than two hours if there are no exceptional circumstances beyond the carriers' control. According to flyforsinkelse.dk, airlines pay out in 7 percent of cases where compensation is due, with the remainder unpaid because passengers have not made a claim or their claim has been refused. This low figure has led to the growth of third parties pressing for compensation on passengers' behalf on a no-win/no-fee basis. Flyforsinkelse.dk deducts 25 percent plus value-added tax as commission for cases in which it is successful. Other third parties offer similar services in Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
However, when TPE put in a single claim for its members via flyforsinkelse.dk, SAS instead insisted on individual claims for every affected journey, with each accompanied by the signature of the traveler. The court case tests whether the signature is necessary.
Schødt said he believes this is the first legal action to determine whether airlines must accept bulk as well as individual claims. TPE will press ahead with individual claims if it loses. "It would be a little tougher to do," he said. "We can still automate the process but we wouldn't be able to make claims for people who have left or don't sign for any other reason."
A decision against SAS could lead to a payday for many other airline corporate clients. Should it win its case, TPE would press forward with bulk claims lined up for several more carriers. Schødt was unsympathetic towards airlines facing the possibility that they could lose heavily if the floodgates for corporate claims open. "This is money they should already be paying because of EU legislation," he said. "They should have already factored this loss into their ticket prices."
Most TPE members have specified in their policies that travelers must forward any compensation received under EU 261 to their employers.