Who is helping air passengers?

There has been a rapid increase of businesses in Estonia and elsewhere who offer consumers a paid service that includes the communication between the airline and the claim for compensation which make the passenger cede up to a third of their compensation when using it. Thus, it is important to know the specific terms of the service and make a selection of whether to use a paid service or communicate with the airline and the Estonian Consumer Protection board yourself without ceding a cent of the compensation.

By today, a regulation of the European Economic Community has been in force for over ten years that should mitigate the damages of  air passengers, guarantee the right to monetary compensation and care. Unfortunately, the Estonian Consumer Protection Board receives daily submissions from consumers who have not received the regulatory care from the airline, compensation or necessary information about their rights if their flight has been cancelled, delayed or they have not been permitted on board. In addition to passengers, businesses also contact the Estonian Consumer Protection Board who represent consumers in the claim for compensation from an airline.

What type of services are offered by the companies dealing with an air passenger’s complaints?

As a rule, a passenger signs a contract with such companies according to which they agree to cede up to 30 percent of their legal compensation and also assign all their rights to communicate with the airline themselves. If a passenger decides in favour of this service, it is important to choose whether they cede about third of the compensation rate assigned to the service provider or submit a complaint straight to the Estonian Consumer Protection Board, whose services are free for the consumer. Compensation rates, which depend on the content of the complaint, length of the flight and other circumstances, can be between 125–600 euros.

What is worth paying attention to?

If a consumer chooses a paid service in the submission of a complaint, it must be identified before the selection of a service provider in which country the business is registered, whether the home page of the company is informative enough and all important data is available – business name, phone number, email address where they physically reside, etc. Before the conclusion of the contract, it is recommended to examine the previous experiences and background of the business and whether the service is provided by specialists with a legal education or not.

It is extremely important to pay attention to the terms of service – what is the content of the offered service? Usually, a consumer’s authorisation accompanies the signing of a contract that provides the business with all representation rights in the communication with the airline and the claim for compensation. Make sure of the rights of the company in the reception of the compensation, how should the money be transferred to the consumer and what is the time period for the transfer, and how large is the amount that needs to be ceded by the consumer.

It should be monitored how the contract and authorisation determine what happens when the company’s communication with the airline is not successful – can the service provider refer to court with a statement of claim without an additional consent of the consumer or submit an application to the Estonian Consumer Protection Board who will continue with the proceedings of the complaint. Granting the right to refer to court may result in additional expenses for the consumer which the consumer may not be acquainted with or considered. Continuing proceedings in the Estonian Consumer Protection Board creates a situation in which in case of a successfully resolved situation by the Board, the consumer is obliged to pay the company a sum agreed upon from the compensation rate even though they would have had the right to the full amount of the compensation if they had turned to the implementing agency directly.

Knowingly, all contracts concluded by such companies that offer the respective service include terms which prohibit the consumer to communicate with the airline after they have assigned their representation right. Therefore, it is important to specify what happens when the airline contacts the consumer and they wish to pay the compensation straight to the consumer. In such a situation, the contract still probably obliges the consumer to cede the agreed 20 or 30 percent of the compensation to the company that represented them. It is worth considering whether such a condition is reasonable or is it wiser to submit the complaint yourself first to the airline and then to the Estonian Consumer Protection Board if an agreement is not reached.

What happens if the consumer has a complaint against the service provider?

Since the company demanding compensation on behalf of the consumer for a cancelled or delayed flight is also in the role of a trader, it may occur that in addition to the flight complaint, the consumer might have a complaint against the representing company. In such cases, the consumer shall submit their claim to the company in writing and submit an application to the Estonian Consumer Protection Board in case of rejection. If the contract has been concluded with a company in another member state of the European Union, then if necessary, the department dealing with cross-border complaints, the European Consumer Centre of Estonia, shall solve the complaint.

It is important to know that if the contract with the service provider is concluded via computer, then it is a distance contract that gives the consumer a right to withdraw from it during 14 days without providing any reason. It is important to check from the terms of service whether the company refers to that consumer right or not because it is obligatory to give such information.