Injuries Obtained on International Flights: How the Montreal Convention Protects Passengers


From lost baggage to injury or even death on a plane, the Montreal Convention helps protect international passengers. Unfortunately, many passengers and their families have never heard of it nor do they have any idea how to navigate fair compensation from airlines.

The Montreal Convention, adopted in 1999, sets forth clear compensation provisions for passengers injured on international flights. Today, more than 120 countries have agreed to the Montreal Convention, meaning it covers most international flights. The current list of signatory countries is available here. Countries continue to adopt the Montreal Convention, including Indonesia in 2017. Some countries like Thailand and Venezuela have not yet adopted it.

What types of flights qualify?
In general the Convention applies to the entire itinerary where there is travel between signatory countries. Notably the Montreal Convention applies even if the injury occurs on the domestic leg of the trip. For example, a passenger is flying from Chicago to Paris with a layover in New York. The passenger is injured during the flight from Chicago to New York. Even though the injury did not occur during the international leg of the trip, the Montreal Convention still applies.

Do I have to prove it was the airline’s fault?
The passenger only needs to prove there was an “accident” between the time they embarked or disembarked on the international flight. An “accident” is an unusual or unexpected event external to the passenger. There are hundreds of cases that discuss the specifics of exactly what constitutes an accident. Once an “accident” is established, the airline is automatically liable for damages up to 113,100 Special Drawing Rights (approximately $153,000 USD). The airline can attempt to reduce its liability by showing the passenger caused his or her own injuries. For damages exceeding 113,100 SDRs the airline can avoid liability by proving the “accident” was not caused by its negligence or that the “accident” was solely caused by a third party not under the airlines control.

What qualifies as an injury?
Aside from psychological injuries that do not stem from a physical injury, virtually all injuries that can happen on an international flight are covered by the Montreal Convention – lost or falling baggage, malfunctioning seats, severe turbulence, bodily injury, financial loss, and even death. The accident can occur on the tarmac, in the air or even on a shuttle bus transporting passengers to the aircraft.

Can I file a claim where I live?
Yes! Under previous treaties, there were cases where passengers could not file a claim in their home country. The Montreal Convention remedied this issue by creating a “fifth jurisdiction,” which allows passengers to bring a suit in their country of primary residence so long as the airline operates passenger service in that country.

The Montreal Convention affords broad protections to international travelers, so it’s wise for every traveler to familiarize themselves with the treaty to ensure that their rights are protected.

If you think the Montreal Convention may apply to your legal case, contact Ladd Sanger with Slack & Davis at 512.795.8686.