International Air Passenger Rights

Since 2003, the Montreal Convention has provided airline passengers with certain rights to compensation on international flights between participating countries. More than 120 nations honor the regulation, including the US and EU, which covers a fairly large portion of the world.

International Passenger Rights for Flight Disruptions

The Montreal Convention applies to international flights between nations that honor the regulation. It was signed and is recognized by more than 120 countries (and counting) around the world, including the US and the EU. Most major airline markets are members with a few notable exceptions (e.g. Russia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam). The list of members does occasionally change as nations join in, which may not always be immediately reflected by the link above.

The Convention also applies if your departure and destination are both within a single member nation, but only when there is a planned stopover in a different country. For example, imagine that you’re flying between cities in a member nation such as China with a stopover in Vietnam. Your flight would be covered. But if you had a direct flight instead, with no stopover, it would not be an “international” flight and would not be covered.

No matter what type of issue is involveddelays, flight cancellations, or boarding denials—the Montreal Convention is there to help you. If you miss a pre-paid reservation, have to pay for an extra night at a hotel, or rack up any other unforeseen expenses due to air travel problems, you can get reimbursed. There are obviously a few caveats to consider, which we cover below, but when international air travel goes wrong, the Montreal Convention can be a traveler’s best friend.

Only damages resulting from the disruption are covered.

Passengers can claim reimbursement for expenses and losses caused by a flight disruption. Just being late or inconvenienced is usually not enough. See the note on “damages” below for more. It’s usually necessary to provide documentation of the incident and proof of added expenses, so hold onto your receipts.

Extraordinary circumstances are not covered.

Most of the time, the airline cannot be blamed for flight delays or disruptions due to “extraordinary circumstances,” which is most frequently bad weather. Other extraordinary circumstances include lightning strikes, medical emergencies, labor strikes, Air Traffic Control restrictions, sudden malfunctioning of the airport radar, sabotage, political unrest, acts of terrorism… you get the idea. In short, the airline can’t be held liable if they took every reasonable measure to avoid the travel disruption or if it was impossible to do so.

A note on “damages” and what it means

The Montreal Convention uses the word “damages” to talk about what passengers are entitled to, but that is interpreted differently depending on where you are. In many jurisdictions like the United States, those “damages” are limited to monetary losses and don’t include psychiatric distress (unless they are a result of a physical injury). In other parts of the world, like the EU, a looser interpretation of the regulation allows passengers to claim for emotional damages. These distinctions are beyond the scope of this document though, and if you need more info, you might be better off seeking professional counsel.

Compensation amounts under the Montreal Convention are calculated in a certain way. Instead of using Dollars or Euros, amounts are set in Special Drawing Rights (SDR), which is a currency set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). As of January 2017, the exchange rate was:

1 EUR= 0.78 SDR

1 USD = 0.74 SDR

If the airline is liable for the damage, it must compensate you for your loss, up to 4,694 SDR (currently €6,009.37 EUR or $6,329.68 USD).

While exchange rates vary continuously, the compensation limits for the Montreal Convention are reviewed every 5 years. To check the exchange rates for other currencies or to get the most up-to-date information, visit the IMF page at:

http://www.imf.org/external/np/fin/data/rms_mth.aspx?reportType=SDRCV

If you are going to file a compensation claim under the Montreal Convention, it’s important to collect and submit as much evidence as you can to make the process as smooth as possible and to minimize pushback from the airlines. Here are a few tips to follow:

  • Hold onto any documents related to the disrupted flight, such as e-tickets and boarding passes.
  • Save your receipts that show expenses or financial losses caused by the flight disruption.
  • Ask the ground crew for information about what is causing the issue. The more specific, the better.
  • Keep a few notes about the disruption, including the actual arrival time at your final destination. Any information you can collectlike photos of the departures board at the airport or any communications from the airline confirming the disruptionwill be useful for your claim.

You can start filing your claim as early as when your flight arrives at its destination—simply contact the ground crew when you land. You can also file at a later time. The first place to look is on the airline’s website, which should have a section for customer complaints and claims.

Yes. Under the Montreal Convention, you have 2 years to file a claim for expenses resulting from a flight disruption. That time period is measured from the date of arrival at the final destination, the date on which the aircraft ought to have arrived, or the date on which the flight actually stopped (if different). That being said, we would not recommend waiting too long before taking action—the sooner the better. We suggest you always check the Terms and Conditions of Carriage for the airline in question, as they might contain useful information about refunds and benefits other than monetary compensation.

International Passenger Rights for Luggage Problems

The Montreal Convention applies to international flights between nations that honor the regulation. It was signed and is recognized by more than 120 countries (and counting) around the world, including the US and the EU. Most major airline markets are members with a few notable exceptions (e.g. Russia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam). The list of members does occasionally change as nations join in, which may not always be immediately reflected by the link above.

The Convention also applies if your departure and destination are both within a single member nation, but only when there is a planned stopover in a different country. For example, imagine that you’re flying between cities in a member nation such as China with a stopover in Vietnam. Your flight would be covered. But if you had a direct flight instead, with no stopover, it would not be an “international” flight and would not be covered.

Damaged bags

If your checked or carry-on bags are damaged while in the care of airline personnel, the carrier is responsible for repairing or replacing them at their discretion.

Delayed bags

If your luggage doesn’t show up on time at your destination, the airline is responsible for providing you with up-to-date information on where your bags are. In the meantime, if you need to replace essential items that were in your bags, like toiletries, the airline should reimburse you for those costs, as well. Keep your receipts.

Lost luggage

If the airline loses your luggage, they are responsible for compensating you for the bags and their contents up to a certain amount, provided you can supply documentation of the lost items and their value. After 21 days, missing bags are considered lost, even if they show up again later.

Situations caused by the passenger are not covered.

The airline will not be held liable if it can be shown that the passenger contributed to the issue in some way or if there was a defect or inherent problem with the luggage that was a factor in the damage or loss. Examples might include:

  • Faulty or inadequate luggage that fails under normal handling
  • Packing items that are inherently breakable or dangerous
  • Over-packing a bag to the point where it may fail

Special Currency

Instead of using Dollars or Euros, amounts are set in Special Drawing Rights (SDR), which is a currency set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). As of January 2017, the exchange rate was:

1 EUR= 0.78 SDR

1 USD = 0.74 SDR

Liability limit

Your compensation amount will be negotiated between you and the airline and will vary based on the situation. For luggage, the Montreal Convention caps the airline’s liability per passenger at 1,131 SDR (currently €1,447.93 EUR or $1,525.11 USD), so that’s the most you’re likely to get in any case. Airlines will also work to keep their costs down by paying depreciated value for things and refusing to cover certain types of items at all, such as jewelry or electronics. For more information on what items these might be, check your airline’s Conditions of Carriage on its website.

Damaged luggage

Upon inspecting the damage to your bags, the airline will offer to replace the item or repair the damage, based on what is most cost-effective for them. When replacing your bag, they will most likely offer you a depreciated amount based on the current retail price and how long you have owned it. The same goes for any damaged items in your luggage, although it’s important to note that there are a lot of things that airlines will refuse to cover at all under most circumstances, like fragile items or electronics.

Airlines may label some items with a Limited Release Tag, which is their way of saying they won’t cover it. Items that are often tagged with an LRT are things like musical instruments, sports equipment, baby strollers, or other bulky or fragile items. However, under the Montreal Convention, the airline should be responsible for any items they accept as baggage, unless it’s something that is, by nature, easily damaged (like a glass vase with no protective packaging). So it’s sometimes possible to push back if they try to use an LRT to get out of paying compensation.

Delayed and lost luggage

For delayed luggage, you can claim reimbursement for any expenses resulting from the delayed delivery of your bags, up to 1,131 SDR. This includes things like toiletries that you need to replace while your bags are missing.

For lost luggage, airlines will reimburse you for your bags and their contents (in addition to the delay expenses mentioned above) up to 1,131 SDR, provided you can supply documentation of the items. In both cases, the airline will likely try to limit the compensation amount based on future use considerations and depreciated values for items.

Additional coverage

If you’re transporting something worth more than the 1,131 SDR limit, you have the option to declare a higher value for your luggage and items when you check your bags at the airport. The airline will usually provide you with a higher coverage amount for a fee. Alternatively, you can take out a separate travel insurance policy that covers luggage damage and loss, although you probably won’t be able to get compensation from both the airline and your insurance policy. It’ll be one or the other.

While exchange rates vary continuously, the compensation limits for the Montreal Convention are reviewed every 5 years. To check the exchange rates for other currencies or to get the most up-to-date information, visit the IMF page at:

http://www.imf.org/external/np/fin/data/rms_mth.aspx?reportType=SDRCV

Here are a few tips to follow to give your claim the best chance of succeeding:

  • Hold onto any documents related to your flight, such as e-tickets or boarding passes, checked luggage receipts, Property Irregularity Report, and your file reference number.
  • Assemble a list of contents for your luggage, as well as any supporting documentation such as sales receipts or photos of your packed items.
  • Hold onto your receipts for any things you need to purchase to replace necessary items that were in your bags, like toiletries, etc.

Damaged luggage

Report the damage to the airline as soon as possible. It’s best to do so while you’re still at the airport, but you have 7 days from the time you receive your luggage to file a damage claim. You will also need to present your bags to the airline for inspection to receive any compensation.

Delayed luggage

If your bags do not show up on the baggage carousel, notify the airline as soon as possible, ideally before you leave the airport. You’ll be given a file reference number and may have to fill out a Property Irregularity Report (PIR), both of which you’ll need to hold onto. Once you receive your luggage, you have 21 days to submit a claim for reimbursement.

Lost luggage

If the airline admits that your luggage is missing or if it doesn’t surface for more than 21 days after your flight, your bags are officially considered losteven if they turn up again later. At this point, you have 2 years to file a claim for reimbursement under the Montreal Convention from your date of travel or whenever your trip should have ended.
If that’s still not enough and you would like to know exactly what the Montreal Convention says, you can read the actual text of the agreement, as well.

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