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Pax send in bailiffs to make airlines cough up compo

April 4, 2018 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Consumers have hit on a sure way of forcing cut-price carriers to pay compensation for delays – by getting bailiffs to enter airline offices and order the immediate seizure, removal and sale of office equipment and furniture unless money is paid on the spot.

The tactic has surfaced in Britain, made necessary because carriers are failing to pay passengers compensation for flight delays and cancellations, as they are legally obliged to.

According to You and Yours, a British radio consumer affairs program broadcast on BBC Radio 4, airlines including EasyJet and Thompson Airways (now TUI Airways) have ignored thousands of court rulings ordering compensation.

That’s where bailiffs come in. They have the legal power to seize and sell goods – including aircraft, by public auction if necessary – to recover the amount of the debt. In one case, bailiffs boarded a plane belonging to a small European airline and held it on the tarmac until the owners paid up.

Compensation for delays and cancellations

It seems that airlines, suddenly, are in fear and trembling. EasyJet says it is changing its policies on claims, while TUI Airways has launched an investigation, the program reported. Staff at the offices of leading UK airlines are said to be so concerned about the new technique, they are using debit and credit cards to pay up on the spot as soon as bailiffs make an appearance.

EU rules have since 2005 stated that passengers who have had their flights cancelled or delayed three hours or more are entitled to compensation of around GBP 500 (AUD 914) depending on the flight.

When passengers put their claims in, however, many airlines just ignore them.

Not any more.

A lawyer instructing bailiffs. 18th century print 

You and Yours said that when it searched official records, there were so many outstanding court orders against EasyJet and TUI Airways that the official websites crashed.

According to data from the Registry Trust Online, some of Britain’s biggest airlines have failed to pay over GBP 4 million (AUD 7.3 million) in court judgments to over 10,000 delayed passengers.

Coby Benson, Solicitor at Bott and Co, the leading flight delay compensation law firm in the UK, says he has seen a trend over the years, with Thomson in particular said to be making life difficult for delayed passengers.

“In 2017 we had to issue court proceedings on 73% of our Thomson cases – around 3000 in total on behalf of 7000 passengers.” Benson explained. “Many of our customers have tried to recover compensation direct from the airline but been ignored or fobbed off so they have had no other choice but to come to us for help.”

One of those passengers was Nicos Nicolaou, whose Thomson flight from Stansted Airport to Kephalonia International Airport was cancelled in October 2016.

Nicolaou initially contacted Thomson to request compensation under the relevant EU directive, EU261 – only to be told to make a claim against his travel insurance, according to Bott and Co. After finding out about Bott and Co, Nicolaou submitted his claim through the company’s online flight delay calculator in November 2017.

Four months later, Nicolaou was awarded EUR 400 (AUD 640) in compensation, after the airline failed to respond to the legal action taken by the law firm on his behalf, resulting in Bott and Co having to issue court proceedings against the airline.

“All I wanted was for Thomson to be a bit more understanding and refund me the cost of the replacement flight I had to pay for and give me the compensation I was rightfully entitled to, but they fobbed me off,” Nicolaou said.

“When I realised the only option was to take legal action, I asked Bott and Co to take on the claim as I wasn’t confident in taking the airline to court myself.”

Bott and Co operate on a no-win-no-fee basis. In the case of Thomson (now TUI) Airways, the firm reports that it has lost only 1% of claims it has brought against the airline.

An overview of the law relating to delays, written from an Australian perspective by Sydney-based specialist travel and tourism lawyer Antony J. Cordato and Henriette Dobler, can be read here: Flight Delays: What should passengers expect when they fly?

Written by Peter Needham

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