Claims company say ‘contact airline first’ clause deprives passengers of compensation

Claims company say ‘contact airline first’ clause deprives passengers of compensation

MONTREAL — A passenger rights company is calling on the country’s transportation regulator to take a stand against airlines that bar travellers from engaging a third party to seek compensation until their claims have already been rejected.

So called “contact airline first” clauses stipulate that passengers seeking compensation must initially reach out to the airline directly, rather than filing a claim through a law firm, company or advocacy group. Berlin-based AirHelp says the provisions protect carriers’ interests at the expense of their customers, depriving them of key information when they ask to be compensated for delayed flights or damaged luggage.

“‘Contact airline first’ clauses are often used as an opportunity to reject and filter out many valid claims, as the airlines know the majority of passengers will not pursue the matter further,” AirHelp chief legal officer Christian Nielsen said in release.

Up to two-thirds of Canadian claimants give up their claim after an initial rejection by the airline, according to an online YouGov survey last year that included 10,400 participants from nine countries.

A 2019 AirHelp study drawing on hundreds of thousands of the company’s claims also found that airlines wrongfully reject more than 50 per cent of valid claims at first.

Air Canada customer Steve Pereira hopes to force legal clarity on the issue with a case now before the Canadian Transportation Agency, though a backlog of thousands of complaints could delay the outcome.

The regulator upheld Air Canada’s clause in a decision from March 2019, the airline noted.

“It is always our desire to resolve any issues that arise quickly and fairly,” Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email.

“The agency said our approach is a means to minimize delays and offers an efficient way to resolve claims (noting our online process is very easy to use and customer friendly), it protects the interests of passengers, and is in keeping with the intent of other regulations, such as the EU rules.”

AirHelp says the precedent comes into question in the wake of recent case law abroad and a new passenger rights charter in Canada.

“Times have changed,” Nielsen said in a phone interview.

“Over the last two years, that case law has been overturned. So now in Europe it’s illegal,” he said, citing a pair of rulings in German and Austrian courts over the past 12 months.

The federal government rolled out its Air Passenger Protection Regulations last year, which lay out compensation requirements for incidents ranging from tarmac delays to flight bumping.

Airlines filed a court challenge soon after arguing the regulations go too far on mandatory compensation, while consumer advocates say the rules grant carriers too many exemptions.

Air Canada and Porter Airlines Inc., along with 17 other applicants that include the International Air Transport Association — which has some 290 member airlines — state in a court filing from June 2019 that required payments under the air passenger bill of rights violate international standards and should be rendered invalid.

The rules require passengers to be compensated up to $2,400 if they are denied boarding because a flight was overbooked and receive up to $2,100 for lost or damaged luggage. Compensation also includes up to $1,000 for delays or cancelled flights.

Advocates have said the criteria for monetary compensation are tough to meet as passengers have to present evidence that is typically in the hands of an airline.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2020

Companies in this story: (TSX:AC)

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version described AirHelp as an advocate.

Airlines

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

RCMP. (Black Press File Photo)
Calgary man dies in two-vehicle collision near Sylvan Lake

A semi truck collided with a SUV just east of Hwy. 781 on Hwy 11.

FILE - A Tim Hortons employee hands out coffee from a drive-through window to a customer in Mississauga, Ont., on March 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Tim Hortons to test deposit program for returnable coffee cups and packaging

Test program to start at select Toronto restaurants

FILE - U.S. President Donald Trump, center left, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chat before a round table meeting of NATO leaders in Watford, Hertfordshire, England, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Evan Vucci
US NATO allies still short on defence spending aims

None of the 30 allies owes NATO or its members money

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.	Kenney is isolating at home after one of his ministers tested positive for COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Alberta premier isolating after minister tests positive for COVID-19

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is isolating at home

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Temporary COVID-19 testing sites coming to Wetaskiwin and Ponoka

The Wetaskiwin location will open Oct. 23, 2020 and the Ponoka location will open Oct. 29.

ACC President and CEO Ken Kolby spoke to Ponoka Chamber of Commerce members over Zoom on Oct. 20. (Image: screenshot)
Alberta chambers are ‘411’ to members, government: ACC president

Changes to government supports, second wave and snap election

world affairs
British brinkmanship leaves little hope of a Brexit trade deal

The British pantomime is a traditional Christmas entertainment in which stock characters… Continue reading

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

Red Deer city council will hold a public hearing on Oct. 28 about whether to take the future expansion of Molly Banister Drive off the table. (Photo by MAMTA LULLA/Advocate staff).
Opinion: Molly Banister extension isn’t as important as quality of life

Citizen opposition to the Molly Banister Drive extension has grown since the… Continue reading

Email letters to editor@interior-news.com
I ask myself: ‘What the hell’ has happened to Red Deer?

I moved to Red Deer on Nov. 1, 2001, and I fell… Continue reading

Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod wipes tears from her eyes after losing 2-1 to England during a FIFA Women’s World Cup quarterfinal soccer game in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday June 27, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Canadian ‘keeper Erin McLeod happy in Iceland, looks to help others stay positive

Orlando loaned McLeod to Iceland’s Ungmennafelag Stjarnan in August

Most Read