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Thursday, March 6, 2014

AirHelp: Silicon Valley StartUp Helps Passenger Recoup Cash for Canceled Flights (Update)

Posted By on Thu, Mar 6, 2014 at 10:29 AM

Update, 1:10 p.m.: United Airlines responds (see bottom).

click to enlarge Visual from the AirHelp video tutorial. - AIRHELP
  • AirHelp
  • Visual from the AirHelp video tutorial.

Few processes on Earth are more time-consuming and byzantine than filing a claim with an airline carrier -- even for passengers with good cause.

Ask Henrik Zilmer, irritated traveler-turned-amateur-claim-expert, who had an epiphany a couple years ago, after getting jettisoned from a Singapore Airlines flight to Denmark. After spending three months navigating a tangle of links and negotiating on the phone with airline representatives, he finally snagged an $800 check.

Zilmer's travails inspired him to co-found a new start-up, AirHelp, which helps other beleaguered travelers demand remittance. For a 25 percent cut, Zilmer and his staff do all the legwork and recoup big chunks of cash for their clientele.

It turns out passengers who are bumped off flights from Europe to the U.S. may be entitled to $800 compensation, according to guidelines laid out by the European Union and the U.S. Department of Transportation. A U.S. passenger could reap up to $1300 after waiting more than 2 hours for a domestic flight, and then getting axed.

And, according to the experts at AirHelp, you're entitled to claim that money even if your boss paid for the flight.

We're waiting to hear back from a few airline carriers to see what they think of this enterprise.

Zillmer's co-founder, Nicolas Michaelsen, says the start-up gets some pushback from airlines, mostly in the form of an initial rejection letter. In most cases, AirHelp successfully appeals the rejection -- sometimes by settling with the airline in court. To date, the start-up has helped compensate tens of thousands of passengers, Michaelsen says. It's given the worst side of air travel a slight silver lining.

Update: A spokesman from United Airlines notes, via e-mail, that United provides customers with written information about their rights in the event of a long delay or involuntary flight bump.

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About The Author

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan was a staff writer at SF Weekly from 2013 to 2015. In previous lives she was a music editor, IP hack, and tutor of Cal athletes.

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