Airlines and Lawyers

Despite having been a frequent traveller, I never had any insurance covering things like cancelled flights, etc. The main reason for that was that policies commonly only cover ridiculously short travel times of 1-2 months. Plus, these insurances only cover if one gets seriously ill, and having that certified by a doctor could be an adventure in itself, depending on where on earth one finds oneself.

Thus early this year, when I wanted to cancel a return flight Berlin – Bangkok for personal reasons, I saw myself confronted with a rather hefty cancellation charge by the airline (Turkish). Out of the original ticket price of €590, they would have refunded €90. I was not happy.

Doing a bit more research, I found out that Turkish’s terms and conditions clash with German civil law and that the airline had been sued (and found guilty) several times before. Now that was promising news, given that I have legal insurance.

This is the timeline:

03.01.2017: I cancel my flight (scheduled to leave on the 10th of that month) in writing to Turkish’s Frankfurt office, demanding a full refund.

05.01.2017: Turkish replies by email, asking me to report the case in their online system. Suspecting them to be playing on time, I get in touch with my legal insurance.

03.02.2017: Legal insurance recommended to try mediation before taking proper legal action. I send all relevant documents to a Cologne lawyer who will communicate on my behalf.

10.02.2017: Turkish demands a letter of attorney, the demand is met.

19.03.2017: No news from lawyer nor Turkish, I follow up.

27.03.2017: The lawyer informs me that Turkish has challenged the letter of attorney. She calls that move a joke and assumes that Turkish is just stalling. She will notify my legal insurance that the airline is unwilling to pay.

29.03.2017: Ring free for round 2! Legal insurance has ensured cover for the upcoming legal case and I get in touch with a Berlin based lawyer, who takes over the case.

19.04.2017: The new lawyer has revised the relevant documents and receives power of attorney.

22.04.2017: Turkish receives a letter from the new lawyer, in which he demands full repayment, cover of his expenses and threatens immediate legal action.

12.05.2017: Turkish caves in. The airline continues to claim that in accordance with their (illegal) terms and conditions I am entitled to only a fraction (€90) of the original ticket price (€590). However, they inform me that they have revisited the case and found that, if I had taken the flight, I would have arrived with a huge delay and, because of that, would have been entitled to a compensation of €600 (by European air passenger rights). The whole argumentation is odd, to say the least, and probably aims at not creating a precedent. Here’s an excerpt:

Upon investigation […] it was determined that TK1724 Berlin(TXL)/Istanbul(IST) flight dated 10th of January 2017 was conducted with 15 minutes delay due to aircraft/equipment replacement and 1 hour and 14 minutes delay due to extreme weather conditions in Istanbul. It was found that total delay period was 1 hour and 29 minutes.

[…]

Accordingly, if our passenger, […], had accepted to use his delayed flight, he would have been misconnected to TK0068 Istanbul(IST)/Bangkok(BKK) flight dated 11th of January 2017 since his first flight arrived 1 hour and 40 minutes later than planned arrival time and reduced the connection timelimit in Istanbul from 1 hour and 50 minutes to 10 minutes.

As the result of our investigation process, it has been determined that our passenger has right to receive refund for his ticket with deduction free in accordance with international civil aviation rules and procedures.

07.06.2017: Turkish has refunded the full ticket price.

12.06.2017: The lawyer informs me that the legal insurance (HUK Coburg) refuses to cover the full cost of the case.

13.06.2017: I call the insurance company a total of three times and every time get a contradictory statement. I ask to speak to the manager and am ensured that he’ll call me back the following day.

16.06.2017: Nobody from the insurance company has gotten back to me and I call again. This time I’m being put through to the manager. After explaining the case (again), he assures me that he’ll be in touch with the lawyer.

27.06.2017: The lawyer informs me that the legal insurance has again refused to pay up. I get their letter in CC and they really only did that: refusing to pay. It’s not what I expected after having been assured that they would “be in touch” with the lawyer.

29.06.2017: I’ve been thinking it through and consider it unlikely that I’ll get the full cost covered. HUK Coburg’s behaviour (and degree of incompetence) have been beyond belief and I decide to cancel all insurances I have with them. Learning from mistakes, I guess.

Anybody remember Philadelphia (1993)?

Andrew Beckett: What do you call a thousand lawyers chained together at the bottom of the ocean?

Joe Miller: I don’t know.

Andrew Beckett: A good start.