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GDPR can be used for private financial claims that have little to do with Data Privacy

EU / France
Since the decision of the Court of Cassation of February 14, 2018, passengers who have suffered flight delays, must provide their boarding pass (proof of their presence at the airport on the day of departure) to be compensated in France. This means that if you have lost your boarding pass, you cannot claim anything in France.

The logic of the Court of Cassation is that, to compensate a delay, there must be a damage caused by the delay, which is proven by the presence at the boarding gates, waiting until the flight takes-off. If you missed the plane or could not make it to the airport for a reason or another, then the delay is not a direct cause of any damage and compensation is not due.

It means that, without the precious boarding-pass (paper) or e-pass (email), a passenger cannot claim his rights. It should be noted that a delayed flight is not a cancelled flight. The flight happens, but  boarding passes are often lost or thrown away in the country of destination.  

In modern time, some airline don’t give boarding passes anymore, neither paper nor email. Including French airlines. 

Fortunately, GDPR can be used to enforce passengers’ claims, even if they have lost or thrown away, or never received, the precious piece of evidence

Passenger mitigating damages

Using GDPR to obtain missing evidences.

AirHelp, a legal site specializing in the recovery of compensation, managed to win 47 disputes between October 2018 and January 2019, forcing airlines to pay compensation eventhough the boarding pass could not be presented by the passenger.

First, lawyers were able to obtain compensation through other proofs of presence at the airport on the day of the flight such as luggage tags, photos taken in the boarding area, invoices at the coffee bar…

For other cases without any piece of evidence in the possession of the passenger, lawyers appealed to the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) to obtain personal data from the airline company, including the valuable evidence of presence at the airport.

It seems obvious that, in modern times, companies have all the data necessary to proove the presence of each passenger at the boarding gate.

When the  airline did not want to cooperate or comply with the data request,  the Judgment was taken totally in favor of the passenger. The judges took into account the passenger’s multiple efforts to prove its legitimate right to obtain compensation, and the lack of response from the airline, which can only be considered as suspicious and motivated by the fact that a party is not legally bound to bring evidences against itself.

Nobody reported whether passengers made a claim to the French Data Supervisory Authority in the case of a refusal to transfer the data to the legitimate user. Such a move could hold a conflicting of interest between the passengers’ financial claims and the risk of financial sanctions that can be perceived as jeopardizing the sustainability of the private financial rights in question, not necessarily for oneself, but for all future claims.

How does this relate to the Blockchain?

Many Blockchain projects tried to sell solutions to airlines for the automatic management of passengers’ claims, in particular auto-refund after flight delay, which is a condition easy enough to implement for triggering smart-contracts.

Indeed, this is exactly the type of area where smart contracts excel and have the immediate beneficial impact of blockchain as a way to improve mankind situation: with a smart-contract system, each and every passenger would receive compensation as soon as the flight delay is legally binding.   There would be no need for passengers to write a letter, show a boarding pass or other evidences. They could even receive compensation before the plane has taken-off. A good opportunity for travellers to spend more in Duty free shops, or to come back to fly with that airline.

Reality Check

The reality is that only a little percentage of passengers claim a refund, and airlines are quite happy about that. The unclaimed funds are used to fuel the company’s operations and  they represent a good percentage of any airline income.

That’s also because the delay time can be short from an air traffic point of view (2 hours delay for trips of less than 1500 kilometers, up to 4 hours for trips longer than 3500 kilometers).

Additionally, services like coffe shops and duty free shops are not the same pocket as the airline(s). A system of redistribution through coupons is certainly possible, but it requires additional controls and operations, at a cost which is not necessarily lower than the sum of all refunds.

Forcing smart-contract implementation could be a burden for EU companies if it is not an international standard imposed to all companies worldwide. Unless it becomes a selling arguments that brings more customers to the airlines adopting such a system, but this can probably not be quantified without a live test. Airlines are not so wealthy anymore to afford loosing that income “just to try”.

For more information about EU passengers’ rights in general, click here (official guidelines)

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