(Bloomberg) -- When it launched in 2013, AirHelp made a simple promise: Report your flight disasters to the company’s customer service agents, and they’ll litigate against airlines on your behalf. You don’t have to pay a penny—unless they manage to get you a settlement. And when they do, the service takes a 25 percent cut. Simple.
On Tuesday, the three-year-old company is taking its next step toward seamless airline compensation with an expansion of its namesake app. Offered free on the iTunes and Android Play stores, the app used to require that travelers fill out a short survey and provide a description of their issue to initiate a claim; now, travelers can simply scan an image of their boarding pass and let AirHelp take care of the rest. With the information from your boarding pass stored in the AirHelp system, the company can track your flight for delays, cancelations, and overbooking so claims can get rolling before you pick up the phone.
“Before we came along, people didn’t know about their rights at all,” said AirHelp Chief Executive Officer Henrik Zillmer. “Most people don’t know the law—and even if they did, they might not know what they’re entitled to. It’s actually very complicated, and that’s why we exist.” Now, roughly one in three Europeans is aware of air passenger rights, according to Zillmer. “We still have a huge educational learning curve ahead of us.”
To date, AirHelp has processed claims for 2 million air passengers for a total compensation of $195 million. (Zillmer said the average payout runs from $500 to $600, often divided among multiple family members flying together and filing a joint claim.) The boarding pass scanner, he said, will make it easier to help more people more efficiently.
“Now we can instantly tell you how the laws are applied in your circumstance and what the airline owes you in your situation,” said Zillmer of the feature, saying it takes just two or three seconds to file a claim. Though the process was never terribly cumbersome, he says that every additional survey question prompts drop off, and automatic tracking means passengers will get pop-up notifications when they’re eligible for compensation. All they have to do is give AirHelp permission—with one tap—to go after their case. “It’s like AAA for air passengers,” joked Zillmer.
So what are you entitled to? If you’re flying into, out of, or within Europe—or on a Europe-based carrier—chances are you’re entitled to more than you think. In those cases, travelers are entitled to as much as 600 euros ($670) for flight delays, depending on the length of the delay and the travel distance.
Regulations in the U.S. are less generous towards passengers. Domestic travelers aren’t subject to compensation for traditional flight delays—but tarmac delays and involuntary boarding denials (which happen when your flight is oversold and you’re forced to give up your seat) can warrant a payout of up to $1,350. So do lost, delayed, or damaged luggage claims—for which AirHelp can secure up to $1,220 in reparations. The catch, said Zillmer, is that you need receipts to show the value of what was inside your luggage if anything has gone missing.
Elsewhere, legislation varies. But AirHelp, which offered support only for European flights at its inception, can now handle claims in more than 30 countries around the world—and in 15 languages. (The company breaks down regional differences in clear terms here.)
The average claim is resolved in two to three months, said Zillmer. And just as in its early days, the company will settle up with its customers by taking 25 percent of any secured compensation. When claims require full-blown legal action, the cut jumps to 50 percent—but consumers are not required to pay out of pocket to be represented in court.
No matter what AirHelp takes, though, you’re likely to get far more with its assistance than you will on your own. “You can submit your own claims and never hear back,” explained Zillmer. “And then, when you finally hear back, you are likely to be rejected. The airlines speculate you’ll forget about it rather than invest in legal action.” That’s not how it tends to play out when AirHelp is on the front lines. “We’ve sued airlines more than 30,000 times and won 95 percent of those claims,” Zillmer said. “So the airlines know that if we submit a claim, there’s just no way around it.”
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