The Montreal Convention and International Passenger Rights

Airline passengers traveling on “international” itineraries have special rights in the event of injury or death while in the control of the airline. These rights exist under an international treaty called the Montreal Convention.


What is the Montreal Convention?

The Montreal Convention (Convention) is an international treaty governing air carrier liability for passengers on international flights. In effect since 1999, it establishes explicit compensation provisions for passengers injured or killed on international flights due to events external to the passenger. By “external,” that means due to things not caused by the passenger.

The Montreal Convention replaced the antiquated Warsaw Convention, which had been around since 1929. Among other things, the Montreal Convention removed limits on compensatory damages and added other passenger-friendly provisions that enable a passenger to file a legal claim against the airline. Courts have held that liability under the Convention can apply to an airline while on the ground, on a jet bridge, or an airport bus transporting passengers between a terminal and the aircraft.

What is an International Flight?

The Montreal Convention applies when a passenger travels between any of the 130 signatory countries to the Convention. It applies to the entire trip itinerary if there is at least one flight leg or segment between destinations in two signatory countries. If you are on a flight from Dallas to Little Rock, but your ticketed itinerary included a leg from London Heathrow to DFW, the Convention would apply to an injury or death on the London to DFW leg as well as on the domestic leg between DFW and Little Rock.

Personal Injuries and Wrongful Death on an International Flight

Under the Convention, an airline is liable for damages sustained in a passenger’s death or bodily injury where an accident led to that death or injury. This means a passenger does not have to prove that a pilot or airline was at fault. The treaty assumes that aviation accidents are not the passenger’s fault. The legal burden is on the airline to absolve itself of liability. It must prove that the death or injury did not result from the airline’s negligence or wrongful action, or that it resulted from the negligence or wrongful act of a third party.

This legal standard is different and far easier to meet than the law that applies to domestic flights within the United States, where passengers must prove airline negligence to receive compensation. International passengers bringing claims under the Convention only need to show that the accident was external to the passenger and that it occurred either while on board the aircraft or under the airline’s custody or care.

In the case of a passenger death or injury, the air carrier’s liability limit is 128,821 Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), which as of June 2021, converts to $183,531. Compensation for damages under the Convention is adjusted for inflation and is reviewed every five years.

For passengers seeking more than 128,821 SDRs, the carrier may avoid liability by proving the event that caused the injury was not due to conduct by the airline or a subcontractor, or that the negligence that caused injury was solely due to a third party.

What Kinds of Injuries May Be Eligible for Compensation?

Under the Convention, passengers may claim compensation for physical injuries and emotional injuries that stem from physical injuries. Claims for purely emotional injuries are not subject to compensation. Still, it may be possible to recover compensation for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The specific circumstances of a PTSD claim are critical in determining whether a passenger is entitled to compensation under the Convention.

International Aviation Claims Are Complex

Claims arising from international airline travel can be extremely complex. They may involve an overlay of multiple laws requiring a detailed analysis of causation, liability, and jurisdictional issues. If you, a loved one, or a business colleague experiences a personal injury, or know of a death on a flight where the Convention may apply, contact an attorney with the skills and experience to handle the claim. The aviation attorneys at Slack Davis Sanger have the experience, knowledge, and resources to review the facts and evidence to determine if the Montreal Convention applies. They will work to secure the best possible compensation for you or your loved ones.