What is the Montreal Convention?
The Montreal Convention (MC99) is an international treaty signed in 1999, in Montreal, Canada. Its official title is “Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air”, as it establishes common rules for airlines to follow on international flights between the member signees.
The Montreal Convention regulates passenger rights in case of delayed or lost luggage, flight delays and cancellations, as well as a number of injuries, and has been ratified by 139 parties - members of the European Union and the International Civil Aviation Organization.
What is the difference between the Montreal Convention and EU 261/2004?
Both MC99 and EC261 were set up to protect passenger rights and set rules for and limits to air carrier’s liability.
Under EC261 travellers are eligible for compensation of up to €600 in case of a flight delay, cancellation or denied boarding. While Regulation 261 covers all flights from EU airports and all flights arriving to EU airports that are operated by EU-based carriers, MC99 applies to most international flights.
Unlike EC261, MC99 offers passengers compensation not for the inconvenience caused by a flight disruption but only in case of damages. Historically, the term ‘damages’ has been typically understood as financial loss and not as mental trauma in case of an accident. However, this has been hotly debated in courts in recent years.
The Montreal Convention: Background
MC99 is an important part of international aviation history. Although the topic of air passenger rights seems to be relatively new, the first treaty governing international air travel is almost a century old.
In 1929, the Warsaw Convention was signed with the goal to establish common rules for international flights.
The document, originally signed by 156 parties, set standards for air travel that passengers today know well and take for granted like mandatory passenger tickets, baggage documentation for checked luggage, and carrier liability in case of injury or death.
The Warsaw Convention was amended twice before the aviation industry recognised the need to modernise, integrate and simplify the already existing regulations and created the Montreal Convention.
What is new in the Montreal Convention?
The Montreal Convention coined the term strict liability. This means that the passenger does not have to prove what the pilot or air carrier did wrong. It is presumed that aviation accidents are clearly not the passenger’s fault. As a result, accidents on international flights are automatically deemed the airline’s liability.
The Montreal Convention however also took away the right to compensation for some types of damages. Passengers cannot recover punitive damages or damages for purely psychological trauma.
Additionally, MC99 allowed for travel tickets to be delivered in electronic form. So today you can simply print out your ticket at home or even scan your Mobile boarding pass at the airport.
When does the Montreal Convention apply?
The Montreal Convention applies to all international flights between countries that have signed the treaty. It also covers flights within a single State Party if there is a scheduled stopover in another country (so one journey with two connecting domestic flights will not be covered).
The Montreal Convention and Airline Compensation
According to MC99 the carrier is responsible for damages in case of death or bodily injury if the accident that caused it occurred in-flight or during embarking/disembarking. An accident is defined as an unusual or unexpected event or happening that is external to the passenger and causes injury or death. The Convention also offers compensation in case of a flight delay leading to damages (additional expenses) and baggage problems.
Flight delay compensation
The treaty states that carriers are liable for damages for delay in the carriage of passengers or baggage. The airline may free itself from this liability if it proves it took all reasonable measures to avoid damage.
Note that passengers cannot recover punitive damage or any other non-compensatory damage.
If a delay forced you to spend the night at a hotel and to incur additional expenses, the airline has to cover these. The rule applies to any food and drink expenses for the time you had to spend waiting. Remember that you need to keep all relevant documentation (boarding pass, receipts, etc.).
Note that the airline does not have to compensate you for the inconvenience that the delay causes or simply for arriving late (unlike EC261).
For each passenger the carrier's liability is limited to 4,694 Special Drawing Rights (SDR) (approximately EUR 5,800). The Special Drawing Rights are defined by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and can be converted into national currencies. The amount is calculated at the value of the national currency at the date of the court decision judgement.
As of April 2023, the exchange rate is:
1 SDR = 0.81 EUR
1 SDR = 0.74 USD
Under MC99 the carrier is liable for the inflicted damage in case of checked luggage destruction, loss or damage if the damage occurs while the airline is handling your baggage. The airline won’t be liable if the damage results from an inherent defect.
For unchecked baggage, the carrier is liable if the damage resulted from its fault or its servants/agents.
The law gives you 7 days to file your claim for damaged baggage or delayed bags, so we would advise you to submit your claim as soon as possible.
If your bags have been delayed and you have to buy basic necessities, the airline is required to cover these expenses. Airlines also have to keep you informed of where your delayed bags are at any time.
You are eligible for compensation if the carrier admits your luggage has been lost. Note that if your checked bags have not arrived within 21 days, they are officially considered lost.
Airlines are required to compensate you both for the cost of your suitcase and its contents.
In case of damage caused by delay, destruction or loss of baggage, the luggage compensation can reach up to 1,228 SDRs per passenger (about USD 909).
If you are carrying any expensive items, you can file a special declaration (for an additional fee). If your luggage gets lost, the carrier is liable for a sum not exceeding the amount declared in your form.
The limits set by the Montreal Convention are reviewed every 5 years. Additionally, if the inflation factor exceeds 10%, limits are also revised.
For example, the initial liability limit in case of bodily injury was 100,000 SDRs, whereas today the amount is 113,100 SDRs. The following table illustrates the review of limits:
Death or injury of passenger
100,000 SDRs per passenger
113,100 SDRs per passenger
Destruction, loss or delay of baggage
1,000 SDRs per passenger
1,131 SDRs per passenger
Damage caused by flight delay to passengers
4,150 SDRs per passenger
4694 SDRs per passenger
Where can I claim my compensation under the Montreal Convention?
Under MC99 you have a number of options to claim compensation for damages:
- before a court in the home country (domicile) of the carrier;
- before a court in the air carrier’s principal place of business (where the airline is based; may be different from the domicile);
- before a court at the place of business where the contract was made;
- before a court at the place of destination of your flight;
- before a court at your place of permanent residence (regardless of your nationality).
Some specific cases have even been known to have reached the Supreme Court in countries like the United States, Italy and Germany and are now part of these countries’ case law.
How long after the accident/flight disruption can I claim compensation?
Under MC99, damages are extinguished if action is not brought within 2 years from arrival at destination. In case of aviation accidents the 2-year period is calculated from the scheduled arrival date.
For luggage problems, you have 7 days to file a claim for damaged or delayed bags. If your baggage is not found after 21 days, it will be considered lost and you may claim compensation for baggage loss.
Now that you are fully aware of your rights, all that is left to say is:
Keep calm and enjoy your flight!