Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Airline Carrier Liability for Flight Delays

In recent years, there have been numerous commercial claims brought by airline passengers who seek compensation  for  alleged  damages  arising  from  flight  delays.     This  article  will  discuss  the circumstances under which a passenger may be entitled to compensation for a flight delay, in scenarios involving both domestic and international travel.

It is important to note that Omani domestic law will apply to all domestic journeys.  Conversely, and as discussed below, the provisions of the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air (the “Montreal Convention”) will apply to all international journeys.

Remedies for flight delays for domestic flights

Passengers who pursue claims for flight delays for domestic flights frequently cite Articles 183 and 204 of the Sultani Decree 55 1990 (the “Law of Commerce”) when attempting to establish an airlines’ purported legal liability:

  1. Article 183 requires airline carriers “to carry the passenger…to the place of arrival at the time agreed, or as stated in the schedules of carriage.”
  2. Article 204 states that airline carriers are liable for any “detriment resulting from delay in the arrival of the passenger.”

However, whilst Articles 183 and 204 establish certain travel obligations upon airline carriers, Article
205 of the Law of Commerce sets out the mitigating factors which will absolve an airline carrier from any legal liability for purported damages arising from a passenger delay.

Article 205 of the Law of Commerce provides that an airline will be “absolved from liability” if it can prove that it had taken “all measures necessary to avert the detriment, or that it was impossible” for it to have prevented the delay.

Furthermore, the amount of compensation to which a passenger may be entitled will depend on whether the airline is considered to be responsible for having caused the delay by virtue of some “unreasonable” act.  Therefore, it is of critical importance to understand what occurrences, or types of causes for delays, may be attributed to the airlines.

Delays arising from and caused by extenuating circumstances, such as inclement weather or air traffic, cannot be reasonably attributed to the carrier.  Therefore, in these scenarios, because it is “impossible” for the airline to have mitigated the causes for the delay, the airline would not ordinarily be held legally responsible in these circumstances.

Remedies for flight delays for international flights, as set out by the Montreal Convention

The Montreal Convention is a multinational treaty, which establishes certain international norms and guidelines regarding international travel.  The Montreal Convention has been incorporated into Omani law by way of Article 3 of the Civil Aviation Law (promulgated by Sultani Decree 93 2004).

As set out in Article 1.1 of the Montreal Convention, the Montreal Convention will apply to “all international carriage of persons.”  Furthermore, as set out in Article 1.2 of the Montreal Convention:

“international carriage means any carriage in which, according to the agreement between the parties, the place of departure and the place of destination, whether or not there be a break in the carriage…are situated within the territories of two States Parties.”

Therefore, the Montreal Convention will apply to every individual flight of a passenger’s voyage whenever the original departure and the final destination are two different States.  For example, if a passenger travels from Salalah to London, with a stopover in Muscat, as part of a continuous voyage, the Montreal Convention will likewise apply to the Salalah-Muscat flight.

Article 19 of the Montreal Convention provides that airline carriers may be liable for “damages” occasioned by a flight delay only if the carrier has failed to take all measures that were “reasonably required  to  avoid  the damage  or  that  it was impossible  for  it,  or  them,  to  take  such  measures.” Therefore, as is the case under Omani domestic law, airline carriers will only be liable for damages occasioned if an “unreasonable” act by the carrier caused the delay.

Further, under international law, it is likewise understood that an airline cannot be considered to have acted unreasonably if the cause of a delay results from an overriding event, such as inclement weather, airport traffic, security threats, or even a mechanical delay.  Therefore, in such cases, the airline cannot be held liable for any resulting excess “damages” incurred.