Your Air Passenger Rights under the Montreal Convention (MC99)

The Montreal Convention, also known as MC99, is a pivotal international treaty that governs the rights and obligations of both air carriers and passengers in the context of international air travel.

It covers situations arising both during the journey and because of flight delays and cancellations, as well as damage to or loss of luggage and cargo.

So, what does this mean for passengers? In essence, if you can substantiate that you suffered financial losses due to airline actions (such as flight delays, cancellations, or luggage mishandling), the Montreal Convention provides you the right to compensation.

It's important to note that MC99 doesn't provide the same level of air passenger protection as some regional regulations. Yet, it holds sway in over 135 countries, creating a solid protection foundation for almost all international flights worldwide.

Passenger Rights Mentioned by the Montreal Convention

1) Two-Tier Liability System for Passenger Injury

The Montreal Convention established a two-tier liability system for passenger death or injury. It eliminates the need for passengers to prove the fault or negligence of the air carrier for claims up to 128,821.00 special drawing rights (SDR), equivalent to approximately US$175,000.

For damages exceeding this limit, the air carrier can only avoid liability by proving that the accident didn't happen by its negligence or was solely the result of third-party negligence.

2) Strict Liability Regime for Baggage and Cargo

The Montreal Convention is a potent ally for travelers dealing with baggage-related problems, encompassing delays, losses, and damages to luggage. Under MC99's provisions, passengers can claim up to $1,700 for baggage issues that occurred while the airline was responsible for their care.

The maximum claim for luggage (per person) under MC99 can be expressed as follows:

  • SDR: 1,288
  • US$ (approx.): 1,700

You also have to act quickly in these situations as well, as baggage claims have strict time limits. If your luggage doesn't arrive as scheduled or arrives in a severely damaged condition, it's necessary to inform the airline immediately, preferably while you are still at the airport.

To facilitate your claim, you will be asked to provide your boarding pass and checked luggage receipts, underscoring the importance of retaining these documents.

Under the Montreal Convention, delayed baggage claims extend beyond mere reimbursement for clothing and toiletries. If you require essential items for your trip, such as ski equipment in the case of a ski vacation, MC99 allows you to claim the cost of renting replacements until your belongings are returned. It underscores the necessity of retaining receipts for all such expenses.

In instances where it's evident that your luggage is either irretrievably lost or significantly damaged, you can claim reimbursement for its value.

It's worth noting that the Montreal Convention exclusively safeguards baggage on international flights. However, certain national laws, such as U.S. air passenger rights, may also offer assistance in baggage-related matters.

3) Uniform Documentation System

The Montreal Convention introduced a uniform system of documentation for air travel, allowing the use of electronic tickets, airway bills, and other electronic documents instead of traditional paper ones. It simplifies and expedites trade and transportation of goods by air, enhancing efficiency.

Limitations and Jurisdictional Variations

When it comes to addressing flight delays and cancellations, the Montreal Convention (MC99) operates differently compared to other air passenger rights regulations, such as the EU's EC 261 or Brazil's ANAC 400.

Instead of explicitly outlining compensation rights, MC99 employs the term "damages" to cover what passengers are entitled to.

The compensation amount you can claim under MC99 hinges on the specific circumstances of your case, but it comes with an upper limit. MC99 utilizes the currency of IMF, known as Special Drawing Rights (SDR), which we've approximated for your convenience:

Maximum claim for delay (per person)

  • SDR: 5,346
  • US$ (approx.): 7,000

However, it's important to recognize that the interpretation of what constitutes "damages" can vary significantly depending on the jurisdiction handling your case. In many regions, like the United States, damages typically refer to monetary losses. That means that expenses such as missing prepaid reservations, additional hotel costs, or unexpected expenses due to air travel disruptions are eligible for reimbursement. You'll typically be required to provide documentation and proof of these expenses, so retaining receipts is essential.

In contrast, some parts of the world, such as the European Union, entertain a broader interpretation of the regulation, potentially allowing passengers to claim emotional damages. These distinctions are typically resolved case by case, emphasizing the importance of seeking specialized legal counsel if you require further guidance.

So, keep your receipts in case you need to show proof of the occurrence and additional expenses in the future.

Exceptions: Extraordinary Circumstances

MC99, like many other air passenger rights regulations, recognizes the concept of "extraordinary circumstances." In these situations, airlines are not deemed at fault for flight delays and are, therefore, not obliged to provide compensation.

Examples of extraordinary circumstances include:

  • Weather-related issues
  • Weather-related issues
  • Safety or security risks
  • Ground service employee or air traffic control strikes

However, it's worth noting that airlines must still demonstrate that they have taken reasonable measures to prevent delays or cancellations. For instance, if you experience a delay due to adverse weather conditions but other airlines manage to mitigate the delay, you may still be entitled to compensation. The determination of such cases hinges on a case-by-case analysis.

Time Constraints and Claims

The Montreal Convention (MC99) extends a time frame within which you can claim compensation for damages – up to two years following the occurrence of the flight disruption. However, we strongly advise submitting your claim as promptly as possible after the event takes place.

If your claim pertains to damaged, lost, or delayed luggage, it's imperative to report the issue expeditiously, as MC99 imposes more stringent time limits in these instances. Claims for damaged baggage should be filed within seven days, while claims for delayed baggage must be initiated within 21 days. If your bags remain unclaimed for more than 21 days and are considered lost, you still can file a claim within two years.

What Flights Are Covered by Montreal Convention (MC99)?

The Montreal Convention covers international flights between countries that have ratified it. Over 130 nations (and counting) have signed and endorsed it, including the U.S. and the E.U. member states. With a few noteworthy exceptions (like Sri Lanka and Vietnam), most of the significant airline travel is between member countries.

Countries are still joining the convention; therefore, the list of members occasionally changes.

The convention also applies if your point of departure and final destination are both located in the same member state, but only if you have a stopover scheduled in another nation. For instance, if you're making a stopover in India while traveling between cities in a member country like China. The flight would not qualify as an "international" flight and would not be covered if it were a direct flight within China with no stops in between.