The Montreal Convention: Passengers' Rights

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 states. 

The Montreal Convention regulates passenger rights in case of delayed or lost luggage, flight delays and cancellations, as well as a number of injuries. MC99 is applied independently of national law 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 governing international carriage and 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. In case you have experienced any of the above, you can easily check if you are eligible for flight compensation with our free compensation calculator.

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.


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The Montreal Convention: Background

MC99 is an important part of international air transportation 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 in Warsaw on 12 October 1929 by 156 parties, set standards for air travel that passengers today know well and take for granted. Examples include 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. As a result The Montreal Convention was signed in 1999 and it replaced the Warsaw Convention.


What is new in the Montreal Convention?

The Montreal Convention empowered passengers to pursue, whenever an accident occurred on an international flight. It basically made it easier for travellers to establish and prove they’ve been harmed in an accident during international flights.

More specifically, MC99 coined the term strict liability. This means that you don’t 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 made it possible for travel tickets to be delivered in electronic form. Thanks to that, you can now 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).

For example, a flight between the United States (State Party) and Russia (State Party) will be covered by MC99. A trip which begins and ends in Russia but has a stopover in Kazakhstan (also a State Party) would also fall under the provisions of the Montreal Convention because of that international connection. Conversely, a journey within Russia without any international stopovers does not fall under MC99.


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.

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 during your wait. 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 January 2024, the exchange rate is:

1 SDR = 0.82 EUR

1 SDR = 0.75 USD

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Delayed baggage

Under MC99 the carrier is liable for the inflicted damage in case of checked baggage destruction, loss or damage if the damage occurs while the airline is handling your luggage. The airline won’t be liable if the damage results from an inherent defect.

Unless otherwise specified, in this Convention baggage refers to both checked and unchecked luggage, but for unchecked bags, the carrier is only 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.


Lost baggage

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) when the luggage gets handed over to the carrier. If your luggage gets lost, the carrier is liable for a sum not exceeding the amount declared in your form.


Compensation in case of death or injury

Article 17 of the Montreal treaty introduced a two-tier liability in case of aviation accidents.

  • for each passenger the carrier shall not be able to exclude or limit its liability for damages not exceeding 113,100 SDRs (USD 83,694).

This means that if you suffered an injury during an aviation accident and had to undergo treatment, the airline has to cover your expenses (medical bills). The Montreal Convention requires the carrier to make advance payments to the entitled person in order to help injured people meet their immediate economic needs.

  • More than 113,100 SDRs: In the case of unlimited liability the carrier is presumed to be responsible for the accident and will have to pay compensation to each passenger exceeding 113,100 SDRs.

To avoid such liability, the carrier has to prove that the damage resulted from the negligence or wrongful act of a third party.


Compensation amounts

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);
  • 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, you have 2 years after arriving at your destination to bring action for damages. 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!

We help you get compensation for delayed and cancelled flights in the last 3 years.

Check your flight now. Get up to € 600 per passenger.