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.
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.