Airline bankruptcy: airline claiming I owe them for canceled flight
January 11, 2020 7:56 AM   Subscribe

Last year, I booked a flight ticket with Condor Airlines (a german company) who were owned by Thomas Cook Airways (TCA) who also provided the flights. TCA went bankrupt, my flight (and all TCA flights) were cancelled, no flight or alternate flight was provided by condor, I thus performed a successful chargeback on my credit card. Now Condor claims I owe them for the flight (even though none was provided!) and if I don’t pay they will pass my debt onto a collection agency.

This comes across as bluster (see email chain below). My contract was with condor; they did not deliver the service, yet they want to charge me for it.

1) Do you have any advice on what to write to a german company to dissuade them of this course of action? Any suggestions about german law/statutes to quote, or people to write to at condor?

2 Also, if they do sell the "debt" to a debt collector - presumably one with offices in the USA, does scody’s template still apply?

3) Any other advice welcomed!

The ticket cost ~$900USD, so it's a large enough hit that I want to fight it but not enough to hire a lawyer to contest....



Below is the email chain:


Dear customer,
please pay your flight booking / extra service according to the enclosed
document.
In case the payment has been instructed already, please disregard this
letter. We will confirm your payment upon receipt immediately by e-mail.
If you have any questions regarding this email, please reply exclusively
to
pay@condor.com

Thank you.

Best regards

Condor Flugdienst GmbH
Accounting

——

This flight was cancelled by the provider (thomas cook) and no replacement or alternate flight was offered by you ( or any other carrier under your direction) on or near that date.
This is a breach of your contract to provide a flight on the date booked.

Thus any attempt to charge me for this flight (or fees associated with this flight) - will be rejected by my credit card company on my instruction.

Sincerely
lalochezia
——


Dear lalochezia
 
We understand the situation. However the booking was made before the Thomas Cook Group plc insolvency therefor the contract is valid and has to be paid.
 
Therefor we send out the reminder.

If you do not pay the amount, we will pass the matter on to a debt collection company.

Due to the insolvency of Thomas Cook you can assert your claims via the complaint form.
www.condor.com/complaint

Yours sincerely
Accounting 
posted by lalochezia to Law & Government (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
The Attorney General's office in your state can help you determine the validity of their claim. If it goes on your credit score, you can respond. I would not pay it.
posted by theora55 at 8:00 AM on January 11, 2020 [4 favorites]


Tell them to provide you with the portion of the sales contract and/or bankruptcy law demonstrates that you have to pay for a flight that was canceled due to said bankruptcy and never made good on so you can discuss it with your lawyer and local media. Don't give them money.
posted by Young Kullervo at 8:09 AM on January 11, 2020 [8 favorites]


Are you absolutely sure the email is from Condor? It reads a little scammy to me, if you've copied it exactly as written.
posted by cooker girl at 8:09 AM on January 11, 2020 [13 favorites]


Yes it's from them. The long email header comes as being sent from condor, they enclosed an invoice with all my original flight details including the (correct) exact amount "owed", the original booking # etc.
posted by lalochezia at 8:12 AM on January 11, 2020


So they want you to pay for a flight that never occurred and then file a claim for a refund?
posted by Young Kullervo at 8:13 AM on January 11, 2020


They want me to pay for the flight that never happened. Beyond that, as thomas cook is bankrupt there will be no refund!
posted by lalochezia at 8:16 AM on January 11, 2020


I think you are being phished. Likely scenario someone broke into Condor’s no longer maintained customer database, and is trying to monetize it.
posted by seawallrunner at 8:32 AM on January 11, 2020 [11 favorites]


It seems to me that Condor is attempting to recoup the losses it suffered when Thomas Cook went bankrupt from you (and, presumably, other customers). I don't know how it works in the USA, but in the UK it's unlawful for an unsecured creditor to attempt to obtain a 'preference' in the hierarchy of who gets paid on a bankruptcy by trying to get another unsecured creditor who's successfully been reimbursed via the legitimate means of a credit card chargeback to pay them. Particularly if the service wasn't provided. It may well be similar in the US.

I agree with those who say speak to your local Attorney-General's office.
posted by essexjan at 8:42 AM on January 11, 2020 [14 favorites]


They contacted you first? This is odd.

Condor is still operating—I would contact them using a phone number or email from their website and ask them if this demand for payment is actually from them, as a first step.
posted by Automocar at 8:42 AM on January 11, 2020 [4 favorites]


Did the credit card you used provide travel insurance that covers this type of situation? Maybe that's an alternative?

I also would try calling their customer service line and escalating with someone on the phone.
posted by pinochiette at 8:43 AM on January 11, 2020


Also, was the flight cancelled, or just the ticket?
posted by essexjan at 8:48 AM on January 11, 2020


Is it this scam? I know it's a German company, but really, "The payment has been instructed"? Sounds fishy. And phishy.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:52 AM on January 11, 2020


Travel insurance through Credit Cards doesn't cover bankruptcy of providers. The Credit Card effected a chargeback to condor.....and it worked.

Essexjan: The flight (and all flights on thomascook) were cancelled. Where do you think I can find out re:hierarchy of creditors?

For those of you who say "phishing" Condor is still extant and operating in germany with german flights. The long email header resolves to condor.com. The invoice's phone numbers are for the real condor phonelines that still come up on condor.com's website. The email address I reply to is at condor.com - the same domain as the company.

As for the english used, It's a german company with germans writing in slightly broken english - I have had phone calls with condor for previous purchases before where this style of english has been used.

If it's phishing and I ignore this, nothing will happen. ....

I'm disinclined for any wasted time on phone calls as there is no paper trail.

For the purposes of this question assume the request is not phishing.
posted by lalochezia at 9:16 AM on January 11, 2020 [2 favorites]


Here's details of the order in which creditors are paid, starting with secured creditors, then unsecured, employees and, finally, stockholders.
posted by essexjan at 9:34 AM on January 11, 2020



They want me to pay for the flight that never happened. Beyond that, as thomas cook is bankrupt there will be no refund!


Then I'm confused about what the complaint form they linked is even for. I checked the link, and it seems to be either to claim a delay compensation or to file a general complaint that includes cancellations. So they want you to just...pay $900 and then complain about it being canceled as if it were a functioning airline? What exactly do they think that will get you? They won't be able to reschedule the flight or provide an alternative, and there most likely won't be able to issue a refund unless you, what, sue?

I would reply and ask what steps the company is taking to make consumers like you whole in this instance if you WERE to pay for the canceled reservation and then file a complaint, and to provide official documentation to that effect. At the very least, someone official you can talk to that is handling similar complaints, if they even exist. Ask them what you'll receive if you file a complaint. It may be that another company or some such is handling these claims now.

Not sure if this site is legit but it actually suggests the credit card charge back route you took.

Here is a section on cancellation claims.

"When any company goes bust there are always a whole lot of creditors left behind who are owed money. Compensation claims are at the bottom of a long list which features the airline’s investors, employees and passengers. In addition, since the airline has ceased all operations there’s no-one who could assess the validity of claims. So the administrators will simply view all claims for compensation as no longer valid."

Yeah, this is a case for someone with more knowledge on airline bankruptcy. It just seems like they want you to pay and then eat the cost.
posted by Young Kullervo at 9:48 AM on January 11, 2020 [1 favorite]


I'd be curious what your credit card company thinks about a merchant trying to undo a charge back, and in your shoes would take the 5 or 10 minutes to call and find out if they have any solutions to put a stop to this.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:56 AM on January 11, 2020 [12 favorites]


You've already responded to their initial request. I'd be tempted to ignore it until I got a communication from a debt collection agency. Then respond to them AND to your credit reporting agency. They can't enforce this.
posted by summerstorm at 10:03 AM on January 11, 2020 [1 favorite]



I'd be curious what your credit card company thinks about a merchant trying to undo a charge back, and in your shoes would take the 5 or 10 minutes to call and find out if they have any solutions to put a stop to this.


I liked this answer. Unfortunately they are not trying to undo the chargeback (they aren't foolish enough to go up against visa/mc). They just disagree with it and are trying to recover the monies directly from me.

See this example
posted by lalochezia at 2:04 PM on January 11, 2020



You've already responded to their initial request. I'd be tempted to ignore it until I got a communication from a debt collection agency. Then respond to them AND to your credit reporting agency. They can't enforce this.


It would be really nice not to have to do the debt collection dance over the next few months, but that looks like what I will have to do.....
posted by lalochezia at 2:06 PM on January 11, 2020


I think Elloitt Advocacy would be interested in this. They have company contacts and help forums, but sometimes their own advocates will get involved as well.
posted by soelo at 2:45 PM on January 11, 2020


Have you called Condor? Other than long wait times, when I flew with them several months ago and called them a few times for various reasons, I found their agents helpful and friendly. If you can explain the situation, maybe they can undo it.

And I agree that the English being used doesn't sound scammy - it's a German airline and that matches the sort of English used on their website.
posted by AppleTurnover at 3:23 PM on January 11, 2020


May I ask why you did not initially seek a refund from Condor rather than asking your credit card company to perform a chargeback? (Or perhaps you did and did not mention.) This might help to better understand your situation.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 3:28 PM on January 11, 2020


It sounds to me as though they (liquidators) are preparing to sell Condor, so trying to boost the assets. I would go to FlyerTalk and see if anyone else was impacted and then I would threaten to go to the German press together. Passengers have a lot of rights in the EU. Condor knows it.
posted by frumiousb at 3:29 PM on January 11, 2020


They just disagree with it and are trying to recover the monies directly from me.

Right. IMHO that's going against "Big Credit" and I bet Visa or whoever has an entire procedure for "Visa gave me a charge back against this merchant after Visa followed the charge back policies and now the merchant wants that money back in blatant disregard to the credit processing merchant agreement."
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 5:20 PM on January 11, 2020


My (possibly wrong) understanding of credit card purchases was that there's no direct contract between the buyer and the seller, but one between the buyer and their credit card company, and the credit card company and the seller, so I'm not sure and would be asking about the legal basis for their claim (in addition to the obvious fact they breached their contract to supply flights anyway).

And googling around on that, I find this (UK law):


You order a vase from overseas that never arrives
You buy flights direct from an airline that goes bust
You buy a radio from a shop, and find it's faulty

In all of these, your lender is jointly liable for a refund.

So if you're buying something or ordering tickets or flights worth more than £100, pay for some or all of it on a credit card to ensure you're protected. Keep your receipts and card statement to make it easier.

https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/shopping/section75-protect-your-purchases/

And this (Ireland):

If the seller goes out of business before goods are delivered

If you buy goods (or pay a deposit on them) and the seller goes out of business before they are delivered, you may have considerable difficulty in getting either the goods or your money back. Usually the seller in these circumstances owes money to a number of people so your claim is just one of many. There are rules for the priority to be given to the various debts in the case of the business going into liquidation or receivership. Generally, the individual customer is low in the order of priority. If you paid for the goods by credit card, it is worthwhile to contact the credit card company who may not have actually paid or may be able to cancel the payment – you do not have a right to have this done but the credit card company may be able to do it for you. Information on how to protect yourself from sellers who may go out of business and on your rights if a business is liquidated is available on the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission's website.
https://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/consumer_affairs/consumer_protection/consumer_rights/consumers_and_the_law_in_ireland.html

I don't know what the equivalent is in Germany, but I would thin, there must be some euivalent protection, and you were within your rights to get a chargeback. I would think you should check with your credit card company. Also, googling a bit more, this might be useful:

Help from the European Consumer Centre Germany
https://www.evz.de/en/solving-your-problem/help-from-the-ecc-germany/
posted by Boobus Tuber at 5:55 PM on January 11, 2020


Being from Germany I firstly would like to express that I feel sorry for your poor experience with this German company.

I did read quite a bit about the Thomas cook bankruptcy & measures affected customers should take. Multiple German newspapers & organizations recommend chargebacks as the way to go (e.g. https://www.merkur.de/reise/thomas-cook-kreditkarten-rueckbuchung-von-bank-verlangen-zr-13129566.html , https://www.test.de/Thomas-Cook-Insolvenz-Banken-lassen-Kunden-im-Stich-5532014-0/ ). Based on that I feel certain that what you did was perfectly fine from a legal standpoint and it seems you are lucky that your bank followed through with your chargeback request – apparently some German banks are less compliant and don't perform the chargebacks.

If you still worry about whether thomas cook might be able to go after you, write an email to thomascook@stiftung-warentest.de . Stiftung Warentest is THE independent consumer organization in Germany, and they created this email address to collect customer experiences regarding the bankruptcy. They 100% know the legal situation, I’m almost certain they will both understand & happily respond to an email in English language, and perhaps they could even use your input to help protect others with similar problems.
posted by succulent at 12:58 AM on January 12, 2020 [5 favorites]


Can't comment on the actual airline issue, but it is very common and idiomatic to speak of "instructing" a payment. This typically reflects the fact in a corporate setting, one isn't literally forking over cash but initiating some chain of events that will end with someone getting paid, perhaps after some time or with the involvement of people at other institutions.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 8:49 PM on January 12, 2020


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