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Back in September 2019, British Airways cancelled a flight that I was due to take. Because I was not notified of the flight cancellation outside of 14 days pre-departure, I believe that oversight entitled me to compensation under EC261 regulations. However, the airline ignored my efforts. Click here to read Part One…
In order to continue pursuing my claim, I would likely have to involve a “claims management firm” or to take British Airways to small claims court myself.
Money Claim Online (MCOL)
Some British readers might be aware of the fact that the UK’s small claims court procedures have moved completely online. If the defendant has a physical presence in the UK, they can be taken to MCOL; British Airways certainly meets that requirement.
However, as much as the main travel bloggers in the UK love to write about British Airways and even your rights under EC261 regulations, I simply cannot find a blog post explaining in detail how a MCOL claim (for EC261 compensation) actually works in practice. Or, for that matter, how to track down a UK address for airlines who fly to the UK, but aren’t based there.
In hindsight, I should have become a guinea pig and tried MCOL for myself. This research would surely have been quite useful. Instead I decided to be lazy and somewhat risk averse…
Choosing a Claims Management Firm (CMF)
Claims management firms are often derided as “vultures”, and often for good reason. But there is one really excellent reason for using one.
If you are unsure of the merits of your EC261 claim – and accordingly don’t want to risk paying the MCOL submission fee in vain – you can be sure that a Claims Management Firm will NOT accept your case unless THEY think you can win.
I cannot really make a personal recommendation about which firm is “best” – a Google search will spit up several… – but I chose a company called AirHelp. Its Trustpilot reviews looked fine, and they operate a referral scheme.
I can’t even recall whose referral code I used – but if in the future you would like to do me a similar favour, you can use this referral link – https://share.airhelp.com/l-gCdQ
The first step was to submit details of my flight. AirHelp will have checked various databases to see whether my claim was likely to be valid. As I mentioned above, I took comfort from the fact that AirHelp would not have proceeded without confidence that my claim was likely to be successful.
Straight away, I was asked to sign a conditional fee agreement. No win, no fee sounds reasonable in practice, but nothing will happen until one agrees the CMF’s fee structure. Of the 600 euros I expected to receive as compensation, 35% would go to AirHelp along with an additional 15% if legal action was required.
In hindsight, this is a red flag. The CMF will take 35% for passing along paperwork that you ultimately will provide (and pretending to hassle the airline), whilst only 15% covers legal fees, which you might think should be the “hard part”.
And when you stop to think about it, no airline is likely to capitulate to a CMF. A reputation for thusly paying out claims simply leads to more claims!
The second step was to provide AirHelp with the relevant documentation – e-tickets, boarding passes (if appropriate), etc. – along with an explanation of the claim. (delay, cancellation, etc.)
The CMF will simply use that documentation to approach the airline – as I already did directly, as surely you would do too.
Every 2-3 weeks, I received upbeat, perky, “everything is on track” updates about the progress of my claim. In the unlikely event that the airline engages with the CMF, you will find out.
Approximately 2 months after launching my claim, Air Help was back to ask me to sign another conditional fee agreement, this time for the lawyers. I was also asked to upload a copy of my passport. I don’t believe that nationality is relevant to MCOL procedures, but identification is certainly required.
In early January, I received another request for information, and perhaps for the first time received the impression that a human being was actually involved…
As you may know we decided to pass your case to our lawyers who have taken steps necessary to pursue your compensation in court. To continue the process they require to know the following:
1. You wrote to us that your flight was cancelled by British Airways without notice.
2. Please kindly check your spam folder and please kindly let us know if there is any evidence that expedia had tried to give you notice of the cancellation before or after the planned departure date.
3. Please forward to us any correspondence between yourself and British Airways or yourself and Expedia regarding the cancellation or refund.
And a week later…
As we understand it, you were not directly notified about cancellation.
*However, do you recall how many days before the flight did you log into your account to select your seat?*
This information would help us determine when the flight was cancelled.
The Waiting Phase
Every month, I would receive an email update. With no news to report, these emails consisted of:
We wanted to let you know that things are still going according to plan.
We know you’re still waiting patiently… and we wish we could help more. Once the claim reaches this stage though, it’s out of our control.
We haven’t forgotten about you. We’d hoped to have an answer for you by now. That being said, long waits during this stage are not completely unheard of, so there’s still nothing to be worried about.
In early July, I was informed that my claim was successful, and that I had €300 waiting to be claimed. I logged onto the AirHelp website and provided the IBAN number for one of my euro-denominated accounts. A couple of days later I received my €300.
A note for those of you who typically bank in sterling… Your bank might charge you a commission for receiving euros into a sterling-denominated bank account. Instead I’m a big fan of Transferwise’s Borderless Account. The free Borderless Account allows you to have local bank account details in five currencies – GBP, EUR, US dollars, Aussie dollars, Kiwi dollars – and to hold balances in 50 more currencies.
So, in situations such as these, you can receive euros into a European bank account and hold them there until your next Euro trip. When you use your Transferwise debit card in euro-land, it will automatically use any euro balance you hold. Simples…
The Bottom Line
The majority of people who use a Claims Management Firm such as AirHelp are probably thrilled to receive part-compensation at what they perceive to be little risk. Judging by the correspondence and information requests I received throughout the process, however, I have little doubt that I could have pursued the claim myself through MCOL and kept all of the €600 for myself.
Lesson learnt… if there is a next time, I will be pursuing a MCOL claim online, unless the airline buys me off with lots of miles, as Turkish Airlines did earlier this year in a similar situation…