This Swiss Legal-Tech Startup Converts Flight Delays & Cancellations Into Cash

Edoardo Köppel, founder and CEO of www.cancelled.ch

Has your flight been delayed or cancelled within the last 2 years? Did you know that you can receive up to 600 euros in compensation plus other valuable refunds? Check and get yours through the One Window Service developed by this modern legal tech firm.

We met with Edoardo Köppel, professional lawyer, founder and CEO of www.cancelled.ch – the first passenger rights portal in Switzerland that helps to easily get compensation for flight delays or cancellations. In this honest interview, Edoardo talks about his career path, the disadvantages of the traditional judicial system, modern forms of legal services, personal experience that transformed into business, and gratitude for customers’ feedback. Moreover, he reveals airlines’ strategies to reduce compensation amounts and explicitly explains the rights of EU passengers.

When did your entrepreneurial path begin?

I studied law at the University of Zurich, and at that time already had entrepreneurial thoughts and wanted to do something of my own. I was thinking about how I could earn more money while staying flexible. Once, my father gave me an idea to place an advertisement in the local newspaper, offering to help with legal questions and taxes. It worked! People started calling me, I went to their houses, and provided legal advice – it was great. I thought, “Yes, you can earn money on your own!” With time, it got bigger and bigger, so I was sure that I would definitely do something independently in the future.

What kind of business did you want to build?

I’ve always been interested in modern technical solutions. During my time at the University, I was active in a number of start-ups, helping them with legal issues, and was constantly thinking about how I could implement these IT tools in legal proceedings. My thoughts intensified after graduating when I had to complete a one-year, mandatory internship at a law firm and in court. This experience showed me how inefficiently the system works, i.e., how old-fashioned and paper-based it is. The advantages of modern technologies are not used there at all, although there is great potential for it. So, I wanted to create a technical system that could help lawyers get their work done faster while, at the same time, saving costs for the client.

How did you come up with passengers’ rights project?

I was looking for the idea or a field in which such a service could be implemented for quite some time. Then, while working in court one day, I happened to meet my old friend, Simon. We exchanged the latest news about our lives and he told me a story about his recent flight to Chicago. It was a typical “angry” story of the passenger including a cancelled flight, lost luggage, and all the inconveniences it entailed.

But then he told me something that I wasn’t aware of – that there is a new EU law, which is also in effect in Switzerland, that gives passengers a right to financial compensation for flight irregularities. Simon gave it a try, filed the documents for compensation, and experienced a lot of difficulty in making anything positive happen. The airlines were not friendly or cooperative, and the entire process took a long time. However, during these struggles, he also spotted some law firms in Germany which offered a service that helps passengers get their compensation more easily.

That detail fully grabbed my attention. I then researched and found that, at the time, there were no such companies on the Swiss market yet, and that due to different legal regulations, a separate service was needed here. That was a turning point: Now, we had a working idea.

How did you turn this idea into business?

To build the platform, we needed programmers. I had several clients who worked in the IT industry and who always told me that they would be interested in developing a product in legal tech. So, Simon had the idea and I found tech experts and brought our team of four together. Surprisingly, there was a match between us on a personal level from the very beginning – we were all on the same side. The decision was made pretty quickly, everyone brought 5000 CHF, and we founded the LLC.

We didn’t take on any “real” clients within the first year. Rather, we helped our friends, family members, and Facebook acquaintances deal with compensation issues they experienced when their flights had been delayed or cancelled. This was a necessary step for us to help us find a working model and create an efficient system. This experience was also important for the proper programming of the website, i.e., what questions to ask, what documents to upload, and so on.

All in all, it took us a year to get from the idea to the product launch. In the summer of 2016, Simon told me his story, in January of 2017, we founded the company, and in August of 2017, we went public with the first version of our website.

Going to court is a truly formalistic process, and if you do something wrong, the court will not even answer you, leaving you with nothing but costs and fees.

What services do you offer?

We are the first Swiss company to offer a tool that enables passengers to quickly discover if they are entitled to financial compensation due to a flight cancellation or delay. Our database works in real time, and the website is mobile adapted so that you can instantly clarify your situation from the airport.

If you are entitled to compensation, once you contact us, we can take over the entire legal process of applying for it. All you have to do is upload the flight number, date, and a copy of your boarding pass. That’s it! We do everything else ourselves.

What kind of work does it involve?

We review the information through our automated system and once again manually to determine if this case is eligible for compensation. If the result is positive, we start the legal proceedings by contacting the airlines, filing an application, and organizing litigation. There are many documents that need to be prepared, and there is a lot of work involved in negotiating with airlines or filing applications for the court, especially if it is located in another country.

Why is it better for a customer to claim compensation through your company and not directly?

There are several reasons. First, passengers often have no legal knowledge of how to initiate this process and no time to complete all the paperwork. Secondly, there is a risk of losing money. Going to court is a truly formalistic process, and if you do something wrong, the court will not even answer you, leaving you with nothing but costs and fees.

Finally, but arguably most importantly, airlines often do not respond to individual passengers. Or, they may say that, in this particular case, they are not obliged to pay even though they are. It’s their strategy to reduce the amount of compensation they pay, but they cannot play the same game with us. If the contact is through our company, the airlines understand that we are professionals who know all the legal aspects, so we will definitely go to court if we get a misleading answer or no answer at all. That is why, in many cases, they decide to come to an agreement with us and pay compensation without going to court. Thus, it is much quicker and easier to apply through our company rather than individually.

Why don’t the airlines provide the compensation themselves, without official statements from the passengers?

Unfortunately, this is how the whole legal system works. Even if you have rights, nobody would give you anything without your active efforts. Plus, airlines would lose a lot of money if they offered this compensation themselves. Think of it this way – only in the cases of delays and cancellations at Zurich Airport should passengers be paid around 88 million Swiss Francs a year. Just imagine this number!

Why do you think the awareness of passengers on their rights is so low?

I think airports are in the midst of a conflict of interest between airlines and passengers. They care about people, but because they do not want to get into fights with airlines, they put the information about passengers’ rights in a hidden corner where no one would think to look for it.

Statistically, only 10% of passengers know their rights and so it’s no surprise that airlines would prefer to keep it that way. Therefore, it’s also our mission as a company to spread this information to as many customers as possible so that they know their rights and see their options.

Put simply: What rights do EU passengers have?

In the case of a flight delay, after 2 hours, you should get free drinks. After 3 hours, you might be entitled to compensation of 200 to 600 euros, depending on the flight distance.

In the case of cancellation, you have the right to a full refund of your ticket price plus additional financial compensation of up to €600. Furthermore, if you need a taxi, a meal, an overnight stay in a hotel, or other related costs as a result of the flight cancellation, the airlines will also have to cover these.

Do not throw anything away. The golden rule is: no receipt = no refund.

What should every passenger know about his or her rights?

First, if the flight is delayed, cancelled, or overbooked, remember that you might be entitled to compensation and other refunds. Keep in mind that this is not always the case, but it is indeed worth checking. This is already the biggest step.

Second, don’t be fooled by partial compensation. Many people think, “Too bad that my flight was cancelled, but I got the ticket refund, so it’s fine” when, in fact, the ticket refund is only part of the compensation you may be entitled to. Think of vouchers for hotels, taxis, food and drink, the reimbursement for necessary items, and, on top of that, additional compensation of up to EUR 600, which is guaranteed by EU law.

Finally, do not throw anything away. Keep all physical evidence such as receipts, e-mails with the airline, boarding passes, etc. Even if you were registered for the flight but cannot document this in court, there is a high risk that you will not receive any compensation at all.

In the event of lost luggage or in situations where you have to purchase personal items due to flight delays or cancellations, what is the limit for such purchases?

In Switzerland, the maximum refund for the purchase of personal items is 1500 CHF. But keep in mind that this does not mean that you can immediately go to the luxury boutique and buy a pair of new shoes for the entire amount. If you want to refund your purchases, you must prove their necessity, so don’t exaggerate.

Of course, if you can argue that the particular suit was an absolute must for you to follow the dress code at an important business meeting, then it might make sense; however, you will still have to prove it. In all other cases, simply buy a normal T-shirt, trousers, and shoes and, of course, keep all receipts. The golden rule is: no receipt = no refund.

It is always better to buy the entire route in one ticket instead of doing your own mix and match.

Do these compensations apply to all flights or are there exceptions?

The law applies to all flights, but it is important to understand various nuances. One is related to connected flights. Assume that you are taking a Zurich – Paris – New York flight. If you buy it as a single package ticket, then you are perfectly within EU law if one of these flights is delayed or cancelled. However, if you buy the same route in two independent tickets such as Zurich – Paris, and then Paris – New York, the provider of the first flight is not responsible for you missing the second one if there is a delay in Zurich. Therefore, it is always better to buy the entire route in one ticket instead of doing your own mix and match.

Another rule is about departure and destination. For example, you travel from Zurich to New York and back and have two airlines to compare: Swiss Airlines and United Airlines. For the flight from Zurich, you can choose either of these airlines as they are both subject to EU law due to the country of departure. However, for the return flight from New York, it’s better to take Swiss Airlines as they act under EU law due to the country of the company’s registration. This is not the case with the US company United Airlines.

I know that sounds rather complicated. In fact, you can find all the information online, but you need to invest time to understand what and where to look. That is why we have created a one-window platform for passengers’ rights.

You have done a great job collecting all the data in one place and putting it in an understandable “human” language. But back to the beginning: How did it go after the start in 2017?

It was quite difficult in the beginning because we had to spread the information about this service as widely as possible. An important part of our marketing strategy is publications in the mass media because they help to build trust, which is essential in terms of legal issues. This also allows us to reach a wider audience and to draw more attention to passenger rights in general. Contacting the mass media, comments, and interviews has helped us a lot. In January of 2018, the business really started to roll, and since then, we have doubled our turnover every quarter.

How is it going now and how do you want to develop?

As we continue to grow, the results are getting better from month to month. Our service is currently available in German, English, and French, but we also plan to incorporate Spanish, Chinese, Russian, and many more languages in the future. The right to compensation applies to all passengers travelling within the EU, regardless of their nationality. Therefore, our aim is to make this information as accessible and understandable as possible, even to those who do not speak a local language.

The second development direction for us is to strengthen our contacts with airlines and with our partners that are abroad so that our clients get their money faster. In fact, one of our most important goals for the future is to help our clients to receive their compensation in a fixed time, let’s say, in 10 days rather than 3-6 months.

Of course, we are also constantly improving our services, so we are always very grateful for feedback from our customers. When they say, “That was good, but that wasn’t really super,” it gives us valuable information to work with and helps us to develop the product further.

Now, I know that working with like-minded people makes a big difference because there is good energy and a kind of team spirit that helps us to build even the most complex things.

What do you like most about your job?

First of all, I enjoy being independent, doing what I am interested in, building my own project(s), and working with people that I like. Our current team is the best I’ve ever had. We all have different experiences, different perspectives, and everyone brings something valuable to the project. We are like a band. Now, I know that working with like-minded people makes a big difference because there is good energy and a kind of team spirit that helps us to build even the most complex things.

I also enjoy the flexibility as we mostly work from home. Of course, we have a legal address and an office for IT issues and meetings, but we don’t need to be there all the time. Our customers contact us via the homepage and we can offer almost all services remotely – we can even do it from the beach – all we need is a laptop and internet connection.

What do you see as the advantages of the way you do business?

We have developed this service step by step, are constantly improving the quality of our product, and creating new tools based on customer feedback. Looking back now, I see what I would do differently, but it’s only because I have gained new knowledge and experience. We’ve learned more with every customer we’ve had.

Our desire to grow, coupled with our limited resources make us smarter: we invest almost everything we earn in service and IT development. Further, each positive result gives us energy and, at the same time, the necessity to work creatively on new solutions. Of course, we would have been happy to have had a starting capital of 10 million CHF, but we would probably be much lazier then and would never have become as efficient as we are now.

Thank you very much for sharing your story! We wish you all the success with your project!

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