ritu raj JNU

Airline Liability


Airlines have a number of responsibilities in relation to their passengers, cargo and luggage. International laws provide a world-wide system of standards and rules for air travel. In particular these laws provide minimum liability limits for the carriage of passengers, cargo and luggage in the event of death, injury, damage, delay or loss. These laws were first agreed and introduced worldwide in 1929.

The first international law introduced, is known as the Warsaw Convention (1929). There have since been a number of changes and reviews to the original Warsaw Convention, including increases to the monetary liability limits. These amendments together with the original Warsaw Convention are known collectively as the Warsaw System. Over time the liability limits became outdated and were considered too low by present-day standards. In addition, the laws governing airline liability became fragmented and confusing, as some countries did not introduce all the various amendments to the original laws.

The Montreal Convention (1999), titled the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air (pdf) amended the Warsaw System. It re-established a common set of the rules relating to the international carriage of passengers, luggage and cargo. The provisions of the convention include:

Unlimited liability in the event of death or injury of passengers
Advanced payments to meet immediate needs
The possibility of bringing a lawsuit before the courts in the passenger’s principal place of residence
Increased liability limits in the event of delay
The modernisation of transport documents (electronic airway bills and tickets)
The clarification of rules on the respective liability of the contractual carrier and the actual carrier
The obligation for air carriers to maintain adequate insurance

Special Drawing Rights (SDR)

Under the Montreal Convention the liability limits are set in Special Drawing Rights (SDR) which are a mix of currency values established by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The current value of an SDR in Euro is available on the IMF’s website. The liability limits are reviewed every 5 years.

Travelling with EU airlines

In order to standardise the liability of EU airlines (in the event of death or injury to passengers), member states of the EU introduced legislation in 1997 that ensured that the same limits were in place for all EU member states. EU Regulation 2027/1997, however, did not provide for damage, delay or loss of luggage. Liability limits for damage, delay or loss of luggage or cargo still relied on the 1929 Warsaw Convention.

EU Regulation 889/2002 was introduced to amend the 1997 Regulation, and brought the EU states into line with the Montreal Convention. It standardised liability limits and legal defences in respect of European carriers, regardless of whether the accident happens on an international flight or a flight within the EU. Under this Regulation, an EU airline must be insured to a level that allows for all persons entitled to compensation to receive the full amount to which they are entitled. The airline must also provide each passenger with a written indication of the liability limit for the flight in respect of:

Death or injury
Luggage which is destroyed, lost or damaged
Damage caused by delay
Death or injury to passengers

In the event of death, wounding or any other bodily injury, there is no financial limit on the liability of an EU airline for damages sustained. For damages up to 128,821 SDRs, the airline cannot contest claims for compensation. Above that amount, the airline can defend itself against a claim by proving that it was not negligent or otherwise at fault.

If for example, you are injured or killed, the airline must make an advance payment to cover immediate economic needs within 15 days. In the event of death, this advanced payment must be at least 16,000 SDRs. However an advance payment does not constitute recognition of liability, and may be offset against any further payments.

Any court action to claim damages must be taken within 2 years from the date the aircraft arrived or should have arrived.

Lost or damaged luggage

The airline is liable if your luggage is lost, destroyed or damaged:

In the case of checked luggage, the airline is liable even if it is not at fault (unless the luggage is defective)
In the case of unchecked luggage, it is only liable if it is at fault

If your luggage has been damaged or destroyed, you must make a written complaint to the airline within 7 days. Your luggage is considered lost if it has not arrived within 21 days from the date it was supposed to have arrived. You should make a written complaint about your lost luggage as soon as possible after the 21 days.

The airline is liable for destruction, loss or damages of up to 1,288 SDRs. You can choose to increase the liability limit by making a special declaration before checking in your luggage, and by paying a supplementary fee.

Delayed passengers and luggage

An airline is liable to pay for damages of up to 5, 346 SDRs if you are delayed. If your luggage is delayed, the airline is liable to pay for damages of up to 1,288 SDRs. The airline is not liable for damages where the airline took all reasonable measures or it was impossible to take such measure

You must make a written complaint about your delayed luggage within 21 days of you receiving the luggage.

More information on delayed flights is available in our document on compensation for overbooked, cancelled and delayed flights in the EU.

Travelling with non-EU airlines

The liability limits in various countries around the world can vary, this is due to the complex nature of laws governing airline liability. In countries that are covered by the Montreal Convention, the liability limits are the same as for EU airlines. Whether you would be entitled to an advance payment in the event of an injury or death (and how much), depends on the law of the country.

You should get adequate travel insurance in advance of your journey. Before you travel you can also check the liability limits for the airline you are travelling with.