I am the director of a school that recently took its twelfth grade on a trip to Israel. The parents generally paid for their children’s airline tickets but the school bought tickets for the staff and also for a few students whose parents could not afford the trip. On one leg of our journey the airline was unusually late and the airline paid compensation of three hundred dollars to each passenger. Does the school have a claim to the compensation that was received by those whose ticket was paid for by the school?
Before we can answer we note that the reason the airline pays is because of the discomfort and inconvenience that was suffered by the passengers. Thus, the intention of the airline is to pay the passenger and not the one who paid for the ticket. (EU regulations require airlines flying out of their airports to pay compensation to the passenger if they are late, subject to various conditions.) Therefore, it might seem obvious that the airline’s wishes should be honored. However, we must carefully study a section of Gemara (Kesubos 98) before rendering a decision, since we see from the Gemoro that under certain circumstances we do not follow the payer’s intention.
The Gemara (Kesubos 98B) cites a Tosefta (Demai 8, 2) that discusses an agent who was sent to buy ten bundles of a vegetable that had a known price. The agent asked for and paid for ten bundles, but nevertheless he was given eleven bundles and it is clear that the extra bundle was, according to Rashi and others, given intentionally (or according to some opinions was an error of a non-Jewish seller). The authoritative opinion is that the agent and the customer who sent him share the extra bundle equally.
There is a major dispute among the Rishonim about the reason they share the additional bundle. The opinion of Rashi (which is agreed to by the Ramban) is that they split because it is not clear to whom the seller intended to give the additional bundle, whether the agent or the one on whose behalf the agent was purchasing. Since we are unsure, the two of them split the additional bundle even though the additional bundle was actually given to the agent.
The other interpretation of the Gemara, which is the understanding of the Ba’al Haitur, Rif, Rosh and Tosefos among others, is that even though we know that the seller intended to give the extra bundle to the agent, nevertheless, the agent must share the extra bundle with the customer whose money was used to pay for the vegetables. These Rishonim seem to explain that the reason they share ownership is because the only reason the agent received extra was because he used the customer’s money to purchase the ten bundles on his behalf. Since he needed the customer’s money, he must share ownership with the customer even though the seller only intended to give the extra bundle to the agent and had no intention to give anything to the customer.
The Ramo (CM 183, 6) rules like the interpretation of Rashi and therefore, rules that if the customer specifically stated that he wishes to give the extra bundle to the agent, the agent does not need to give anything to the customer. However, the Shach (note 12), Taz and Nesevos disagree with the Ramo’s decision and maintain that the authoritative approach is the interpretation of the Ba’al Ha’itur and the others, and even if the seller states explicitly that he is giving extra to the agent, the agent must nevertheless share the additional amount with the customer whose money paid for the vegetables.
Returning to your question, if one follows the ruling of the Ramo, certainly since the airline explicitly paid the compensation to the passengers, even the passengers whose tickets were paid for by the school are entitled to keep the three hundred dollars that they received and need not share anything with the school. However, since the Shach, Taz, Nesivos (chidushim 18) and others follow the second approach, we must study this opinion carefully since it seems that they might rule that since the school paid for the tickets it should receive half of the compensation. However we must understand better the rationale for this opinion in order to determine if their ruling applies to your situation.
One case that bears on your question was discussed by the Rashbo (Teshuvos Hameyuchosos, 60). He discusses a dispute between a community and one who was appointed by the community to collect taxes and afterwards to bring them to the local ruler. When the tax collector turned the funds over to the ruler, the ruler gave the collector monetary gifts from his own funds. The community claimed that they are entitled to the gifts since the collector only received them because he brought their tax money to the ruler.
The collector argued that even though it is true that he only received the presents when he delivered their tax money, the reason he was given the presents was not because he delivered the tax money but because on other occasions he did other favors to the ruler, such as lending his own personal money to the ruler. The Rashbo sided with the collector and ruled that he can keep the presents. He states explicitly that this ruling is even in accordance with the approach of the Ba’al Ha’itur et al. Thus we see that even though had he not paid the taxes he would not have received the presents, nevertheless since the cause of the presents was not the tax payment but an extraneous factor, the tax payers were not entitled to share in the presents.
Another case which has bearing on your question is a dispute among the Ba’alei Tosefos and other Rishonim in case someone sent an agent to collect a debt that was owed to him by a non-Jew. The non-Jewish borrower made a counting error and therefore returned more money than the amount that he owed. Since this is a to’us akum, a mistake of a non-Jew, the Jews need not return it. Once again there is a question who is entitled to the extra money, the agent or the lender.
The Rishonim dispute whether this situation is analogous to the case discussed in the Gemoro, and the authoritative opinion (ruled by the SA in CM 183, 7) is the opinion of the Ri Ba’al Hatosefos that it is not, because the extra money that was given by mistake was not part of the repayment of the loan but was an extraneous mistake. (See Rosh, Kesubos 11, 15 and Sema 183, 21.) If the gentile had mistakenly thought he also owed the additional sum that would be analogous to the case of the Gemara because the extra amount was given as part of the repayment of the loan. But where the extra amount was a result of a counting error, the added money is not part of the repayment and the agent can keep the entire sum of money that was given in error.
There are different explanations why the money that was added due to a counting error is not considered part of the repayment. The Beis Yacov and Mishpat Sholom explain that in the case of the Gemoro where, according to some interpretations, the goy erred in thinking that the price of the vegetables was cheaper that it really was, since everything he gave was given in exchange for the payment that was made by the buyer, the buyer is entitled to half because it was given in exchange for his payment. Similarly, even if it was given explicitly to the agent to keep for himself, since it was given as part of the purchase of vegetables that were paid for by the one who paid for the vegetables, he gets half of the extra.
However, in the case where the gentile borrower gave more money when repaying a loan because he miscounted, the lender was paid back fully when the amount he was truly owed was returned to him. Therefore, the extra amount that was given by the gentile was never part of the money that was given to the lender.
The Beis Yacov cites the responsa Tzionei differently, namely that the difference is that when one makes a counting error, e.g. he gives two bills and thinks they are one, he is not fully conscious of what he is doing. Therefore it is like he dropped money on the street where the one who finds it (in this case the agent) may keep it. However, when his mistake is that he thinks the price is lower, he is aware of what he is doing and just made a mistake because his decision was based on wrong information. Therefore the fact that he gave the extra goods for the customer is reasonable.
In any case we see again that the correct understanding of the ruling that the extra vegetables are shared is not simply because the agent needed the customer’s money to enable him to get the extra vegetables. Rather, it is only if the extra amount was given as part of the amount that was being given to the customer that we rule that the customer is entitled to share in the added amount.
This point is stressed by the Avnei Choshen (183, 11) who cites as evidence an implication of the Ramo (176, 12) that if an agent misled a borrower to repay loans that had already been paid, the agent does not have to share this money with the lender even though the agent used the lender’s loan documents to collect a second time.
Returning to your question, since the money that was paid by the airline was not given as part of its obligation under the ticket that was originally issued by the airline in exchange for the yeshiva’s payment, but was given to the passenger as compensation for his inconvenience, the yeshiva has no claim to any part of the compensation. This would be true even if the airline had not given money but a discount on the passenger’s next flight.