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Civil Responsibility of carriers : Increased protection of passengers

Home > Air Law in France | Published 2010-11-22

As a French Law Firm experienced in Air Law and International Law, we have been the preferred partner of passengers for several years.

The protection of passengers for air travel is increasingly taken into account by countries within the sphere of the European Union and beyond. Several texts adopted internationally or within the European Union demonstrate this importance.

The law of air transport is an international matter. It is necessary to regulate this activity for the States seeking consensus both on the European and international front.

The Organization of International Civil Aviation was created December 7, 1944 by the Chicago Convention signed by 52 states who advocated for the economic development of international air transport.

The responsibility of air carriers has been in effect since 1929 with the signing of the Warsaw Convention by 151 nations October 12, 1929. It established the rules applicable to the civil liability of air carriers in respect to certain damages.

The Montreal Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to International Carriage by Air, signed by 62 states on May 28, 1999 has clarified the rules of liability that may seem confusing and occasionally inadequate.

The Montreal Convention might replace the Warsaw Convention, but the states that have not yet signed the Montreal Convention remain subject to the Warsaw Convention. Therefore, these two entities remain in a state of complementary coexistence.

The list of signatories to the Montreal Convention is available on the website of the Organization of International Civil Aviation: A list of signatories.

In any event, the countries of the European Union are subject to the Montreal Convention, which entered into force on June 28, 2004.

The Warsaw Convention was not in fact intended to apply to all airlines with an operating license issued by a Member State of the Union.

The EU had already introduced some innovations to the Montreal Convention by virtue of Regulation No 2027/97 of October 9, 1997 on air carrier liability in the event of an accident.

EC Regulation No. 889/2002 amended the 1997 regulation to adapt European legislation to the Montreal Convention, which was signed on May 13, 2002 and entered into force within the Community on June 28, 2004 (date of the Montreal Convention in the Community).

The regulation is applicable immediately to the internal orders of the Member States of the European Union.

A final European regulation dated January 26, 2004 was entered into force February 17, 2005; it was meant to fortify the legal protection of passengers in disputes regarding delays, denied boarding, cancellations and complaints.

The European Commission requires that within six months, the States implement and respect the regulations on passenger rights.

In this context the European Commission published a report on April 4, 2007 on the implementation of this regulation. It notes that progress has been made but further steps must be taken in order to maintain this improvement.

The Commission has provided a new information system for passengers which will be present at all airports and in all languages in poster format.

These posters will help inform passengers of their rights including their right to formalize and submit complaints.

If the final decision is not left to the European Commission, it shall be decided in accordance with the States and their respective enforcement procedures.

The liability of air carriers applicable in the European Union is divided as follows:

In case of injury or death

  • Strict liability (that is to say without having to prove fault of the airline) of the airline up to roughly €117,000, except where negligence is reported. The carrier is automatically liable for damages to the tune of about €117,000, below that amount the carrier cannot contest claims for compensation except to prove negligence.  Damages beyond this amount may be defended by furnishing proof that no fault or negligence was committed.
  • Consequence: if the carrier fails to demonstrate that he has committed no fault or negligence, it must compensate for the damage suffered. The fault of the carrier is presumed, but it can provide evidence otherwise.

In case of delayed passengers or luggage

In principle, there is no compensation for delays however an exception is made when the delay has caused a direct injury to the passenger: hotel room paid, workday lost …

It is thus expected that the airline is liable for damage unless it relates evidence that he took all necessary measures to avoid or that it was impossible to take such measures. Liability is financially limited.

In case of loss, damage or destruction of luggage

The air carrier is liable even if no fault is attributable to it when the baggage is checked, but its liability is limited according to the weight of baggage.

However, passengers can enjoy an increased liability ceiling on principle when they make a particular declaration and pay an additional fee.

In the event of denied boarding

The air carrier's liability may be incurred when denial of access is done against the will of a passenger. The compensation is fixed according to the miles of travel.

The system for cancellations is identical, unless the passenger was informed 15 days before expected travel dates of cancellation due to extraordinary circumstances.

Concerning persons with disabilities

The airline cannot refuse the booking of these people except for justified reasons of security.

States should determine their own internal sanctions applicable in case of non-compliance; they must be effective, proportionate and dissuasive. France has not yet taken action.

This prohibition is taken from Article 3 of Regulation (EC) No 1107/2006 of the European Parliament and the Council of July 5, 2006 concerning the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when traveling by air. It shall apply from July 26, 2007.

The posters made by the European Commission will also affect these people to inform them on new legislation and their rights. The assistance of disabled or handicapped shall be provided and staff must be trained. Any claim relating to flights departing from or arriving in France must be brought before the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.

Thus the liability of air carriers has increased over the years it has even become, in some cases, automatic (injury below € 117,000). To avoid any questioning of this responsibility, they need to protect themselves.

Knowing the various obligations placed upon the carriers can be complex, especially as some are new, the intervention of a French lawyer experienced in this area appears sensible.

This article is available online for public information purposes. It is updated regularly, as needed. Due to the constant evolution of the laws and the legal system, we cannot guarantee that the information in this article is still applicable. We invite you to contact us with any legal questions or concerns you have regarding this topic at +33 1 56 79 11 00. In no way can this firm be held liable for articles that contain inaccuracies or are now out of date.

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