The Montreal Convention: What Are Passengers' Rights on International Flights?

What is the Montreal Convention?

The Montreal Convention (MC99) is a treaty signed in Montreal in 1999, hence the name. It establishes common rules for airlines to follow on the international flights between member signees. The convention has been ratified by 133 parties - the European Union and 132 Member States of The International Civil Aviation Organization.

The Montreal Convention establishes passenger rights in case of delayed or lost luggage, flight delays and cancellations, as well as a number of injuries.

 

What is the difference between the Montreal Convention and EU 261/2004?

Both MC99 and EC 261 were set up to protect your passenger rights and set rules for and limits to air carrier’s liability.

Under EC 261 travellers are eligible for compensation in case of flight delay, cancellation or denied boarding. Regulation 261 covers:

  • all flights from EU airports, and
  • all flights arriving to EU airports that are operated by EU-based carriers.

The compensation for a flight disruption on these flights may reach up to 600 per passenger. 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.

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On the other hand, the Montreal Convention applies not only to EU travels but to most international flights. This means that if you are travelling between the United States and China (both are State Parties), your rights would be protected by the Montreal Convention.

Unlike the more recent European law, 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.

How old is international air travel? The first scheduled daily international commercial service between London and Paris dates back to 1919. Only ten years later, in 1929 the aviation industry signed the Warsaw Convention. The goal of this treaty was 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. For example, it introduced mandatory passenger tickets, baggage documentation for checked luggage, and carrier liability in case of injury or death.

This important document was then amended in The Hague in 1955, and again in 1971 in Guatemala City. In the 1990s 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 made it easier for passengers to establish they’ve been harmed in an accident during international flights.

It did this by establishing the so called strict liability. This means that the passenger does not have to prove what the pilot or airline did wrong. It is presumed that aviation accidents are clearly not the passenger’s fault. As a result, in case of accidents on international flights, the air carrier is deemed automatically liable.

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.

 

The Montreal Convention and e-tickets

Thanks to the Warsaw Convention all passengers today receive a document of carriage (travel ticket) containing the places of departure and destination. To be in sync with modern times, the Montreal Convention allowed for this 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. For example, a flight between the United States (State Party) and Russia (State Party) will be covered by the Montreal Convention. 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 wholly Russian domestic journey without any international stopovers does not fall under MC99 as it is not international.

 

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. The Convention also offers compensation in case of a flight delay leading to damages (additional expenses) and baggage problems.

 

The Montreal Convention and 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 May 2019, the exchange rate is:

1 SDR = 1.23 EUR

1 SDR = 1.38 USD

 

Montreal Convention and delayed baggage

Under MC99 the carrier is liable for the inflicted damage in case of checked luggage destruction, loss or damage. The condition is that the damage occurs while the airline is handling your baggage. The airline is freed from this liability 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. Due to this short time frame, passengers are advised to submit their claims as soon as possible after establishing the problem. In contrast, under EC 261 you can claim EU flight compensation for any disruptions in the last 1-10 years (depending on the local law).

If your bags have been delayed and you have to buy basic necessities, the treaty requires the airline to cover such expenses. This may include but is not limited to: essAirlines also have to keep you informed of where your delayed bags are at any time.

 

Montreal Convention and lost baggage

You are liable 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, airlines have to pay up to 1,131 SDRs per passenger (about EUR 1,400).

If you are carrying any expensive items, you can file a special declaration. You will have to pay a supplementary sum for it. If your luggage gets lost in this case, the carrier is liable for a sum not exceeding the amount declared in your form.

 

Montreal Convention: Compensation in case of death or injury

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 (EUR 140,000).

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). Note that the Montreal Convention requires the carrier to make advance payments to the entitled person. The aim is to help people who have suffered such injuries to 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 (EUR 140,000).

To avoid such liability, the carrier has to prove that the damage:

  • did not result from the negligence or wrongful act of the air carrier, or
  • resulted from the negligence or wrongful act of a third party.

The last provision is similar to airlines’ requirement to prove ‘extraordinary circumstances’ under EC 261.

 

Montreal Convention: Your compensation grows with inflation

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, initially, the liability limit in case of bodily injury was set at 100,000 SDRs, whereas today the amount is 113,100 SDRs. Similarly, compensation for baggage damages was up to 1,000 SDRs and delay compensation was first capped at 4,150 SDRs. Subsequently, both sums were increased. The following table illustrates the review of limits:



 

Before

Now

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

 

Check the current SDR exchange rate for your domestic currency.

 

Where can I claim my compensation under the Montreal Convention?

Under MC99 passengers have a number of options when they want to claim compensation for damages.

Your first option is to bring action for damages before a court in the home country (domicile) of the carrier. For example China Airlines (CAL) is registered and based in Taiwan.

The Convention also allows you to bring your claim to a court in the air carrier’s principal place of business. This is where the airline is based and may be different from the domicile.

Your third option is to claim your compensation with a court at the place of business where the contract was made.

Passengers are also allowed to bring action for damages before courts at the place of destination of their flight.

The most convenient option may be to file your claim with a court at the place of your permanent residence. Remember that in this case the nationality of the passenger is not important. Their permanent address may be in a different country.

 

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. This means that you will have 2 years from the date of your arrival to collect the necessary documentation and file your claim.

In case of aviation accidents the 2-year period is calculated from the scheduled arrival date.

For luggage problems, passengers have 7 days to file a claim for damaged or delayed bags. After 21 days any delayed baggage is considered lost, so after this period you may claim compensation for baggage loss (rather than luggage delay).

 

Now that you have successfully joined the happy community of air passengers who know their rights, all that is left to say is:

Keep calm and enjoy your flight!