It is regrettable that 600 or more travel agencies in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands were left out of the 1995 caps case settlement by what appears to be an "oversight" on the part of all agency and airline representatives involved.

The error apparently occurred because the "class" in the class-action suit was narrowed to agencies in the U.S. that sold flights on the defendant airlines within the U.S. and to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

However ambiguous the language now appears, the mention of the islands apparently was assuring to agents there that they would be included. That they did not seek definitive reassurances is unfortunate. But one cannot blame them too much, if indeed, as ASTA contends, agencies in the islands specifically were included in the definition at the outset of the case.

The agencies in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, like those that received settlement checks, have been subjected to the caps for three years. But their sales during the period, estimated at $605 million, were not factored in to the disbursement formula.

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There are many questions about the assumptions and lack of communication that led to this oversight when the final numbers were crunched. To its credit, ASTA is working with class-action counsel for a just resolution.

The only monies now available in the settlement pot belong to agents who have vanished from the scene or who have not cashed their checks. That could be as much as $5 million. No funds, however, can be distributed for at least six months.

The numbers for each island agent have not been worked out, but shares could average about $2,000 -- similar to what other agents received -- if at least $1.2 million goes unclaimed.

Short of joining a suit against the airlines for their anti-agent practices, the island agents apparently have no recourse. It is unrealistic to expect airlines or attorneys to come to the rescue. The good news is that island agents do have hope for a fair resolution. All this, just when we thought the caps case was over and behind us.

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