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History and Development of the Contract of Carriage

Info: 4037 words (16 pages) Law Essay
Published: 3rd Nov 2020

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For my paper assignment for this class, I am going to talk about a topic that is near and dear to my heart: The Contract of Carriage.  In today’s day and age, when you purchase a ticket for transportation on any form of public transportation, be it land, air, or sea, the ticket purchase is subject to terms and conditions of purchase.  These terms and conditions are commonly referred to as a Contract of Carriage.  While these vary between different forms of transportation and companies, a Contact of Carriage is generally an agreement between the company providing transportation and the customer purchasing the transportation.  This contract usually outlines the rights, duties and, responsibilities of each party who are affected by an agreement of the terms of the contract[1]

As is pertains to air travel, an Airline’s contract of carriage outlines the rules and regulations when a ticket is purchased.  Working for an airline as a member of frontline management in the airport, one of the most common refutes a customer will present when I advise of the Contact of Carriage is “Contract?!  I never agreed to a contract!”  Most passengers simply click the box to say that they agree to the terms and conditions of travel.  Every air carrier has a Contract of Carriage. 

The history of the Contract of Carriage can be traced back to the Warsaw Convention.  Between the years of 1923 and 1929, a group of foreign diplomats met in Paris to develop a document that addressed the liability of international carriage by air.  In 1929 the document was presented in Warsaw, Poland at the Warsaw Conference where it was signed into law in October of 1929 to be effective in 1933.  Since being enacted in 1933, there have been further changes to this document. This was first amended by the IATA in 1955 as the Warsaw Convention with the Hague Protocol, and then again in 1999 as the Montreal Convention.  The Hague Protocol set out to update the rules and regulations as did the Montreal Convention[2].  The Montreal Convention is the current living document and the most notable change was the amendment of any liabilities that would be paid to families for injury or death while on an aircraft[3]

The Montreal Convention is broken down over five (5) chapters as follows: 1. General Provisions, 2. Duties of the Parties Relating to the Carriage of Passengers, Baggage and Cargo, 3. Liability of the Carrier and Extent of Compensation for Damage, 4. Combined Carriage, 5. Carriage by Air Performed by a Person other than the Contracting Carrier, 6. Other Provisions, and 7. Final Clauses[4]

The General Provisions chapter provides applications and sets the definition of the carriage.  The Duties of the Parties chapter covers passengers, baggage, and cargo.  The Liability of the Carrier and Extent of Compensation for Damage chapter talks about the liability of the carrier in the event of damage, death, or injury.  This chapter also covers the limits of compensation that air carriers are responsible as well as the arbitration process.   The Combined Carriage chapter defines guidance when carriage is provided by air and another form of carriage.  When this happens, the provisions of the Convention will usually apply only to the carriage by air.  The Carriage by Air Performed by a Person other than the Contracting Carrier outlines what the liabilities of the air carrier providing the transportation.  The Other Provisions chapter outlines application, mandatory insurance, carriage performed in extraordinary circumstances, and the definition of days.  The final clauses chapter outlines any remaining things such as the relationship with the Warsaw Convention instruments and when states have more than one system of law.[5]

Taking a look at the three legacy carriers, it is interesting to find out how American, United and Delta Air Lines all differentiate from each other.  When you look at American’s Contract, they only have one contract that covers all of their flying regardless of region.[6]  United Airlines also has one contact, however when you pull up their website to retrieve information regarding their contract, they provide links for information regarding the contract of carriages for their codeshare partners.[7]  Delta Air Lines does not follow the trend.  They have three (3) Contracts of Carriage.  One contract governs Domestic travel within the United States and its territories, one governs travel between the United States and Canada, and one governs International travel between the United States and the other countries where Delta aircraft fly to (with the exception of Canada)[8].  In the next few paragraphs, I will focus on Delta’s International Contract of Carriage.  This covers all of their international flying between the US and all foreign countries with the exception of Canada.

Within Delta’s International Contract of Carriage there are 27 different rules that cover everything from schedules to refusal to transport, to cancellation of reservations and travel documents and taxes, to baggage and flight delays/cancellations.  The most recent updates to this contract were made on June 18th, 2019[9].  I will be discussing some of the more important rules from this contract that affect travelers the most and that everyone should be aware of.

Rule 2 of this contact talks about schedules and operations.  It states that the airline will make reasonable efforts to transport the customer and their baggage from your origin to your destination, however schedules, flight times, aircraft, seat assignments are not guaranteed.  The rule also states that the airline is not liable for any of these items when the airline does in fact carry the passenger from ticketed origin to destination[10].

Rule 7 of the international contract talks about refusal to transport.  Delta has the authority to remove any passenger at any time from any aircraft due to the following six (6) reasons: Government request or Force Majeure, Search of passenger or property, Proof of identity, Travel across international boundaries, Failure to comply with Delta’s rules or contract of carriage, or Passenger’s conduct or condition.  For the first four reasons, this is simply poor planning on the customer’s part to ensure they are ready to travel.  An example of a failing to comply with Delta’s rules or contract of carriage would be attempted to “Skiplag” or use hidden city ticketing practices to circumvent Delta’s air fare rules.  Some examples of passenger conduct or condition that could result in refusal to transport would be if the passenger is abusive, disorderly or violent, if the passenger is barefoot, if the passenger interferes with crewmembers or fails to obey the instruction of any member of flight crew, or if the passenger’s attire, conduct, hygiene or odor creates an unreasonable risk of offence or annoyance to other passengers[11].  The latter conditions are some of the most common situations that I have to deal with at work on a daily basis at the airport.

Rule 14 covers the cancellation of reservations.  This rule outlines the four (4) ways that Delta will cancel your reservations.  Those ways are when it is necessary for compliance with governmental regulations or weather or other conditions beyond the airlines control, failure to comply with the Transportation Security Agency’s (TSA) Secure Flight Program, failure to appear and not providing advance notice of this, or not complying with airport check-in time limits[12].  Failure to not following check-in time limits includes making sure that you are at the gate and ready for boarding by the applicable boarding deadline.  The current check-in and boarding deadlines are posted on delta.com under the check-in and security page.  At the airport where I work, we fall under the exception category where we have a minimum of 45 minutes required to check in baggage on a domestic flight[13].

Rule 15 talks about fares.  Fares are applicable only for ticketed journeys.  You cannot purchase a ticket from DTW-CLE and expect to be able to use that same fare for a flight routing DTW-LAX.  Fares are partially based on the distance between the origin and the destination.  Delta also prohibits ticketing practices that are intended to circumvent published fares that are intended to be offered for a customer’s true itinerary.  This includes back to back ticketing (DTW-LAS-DTW-LAS-DTW), hidden city ticketing (LAX-DTW-PIT, but only flying LAX-DTW), and throw away ticketing (DTW-MSP-DTW but only flying one portion of the ticket DTW-MSP)[14].  Later in this paper we will discuss two law suits that cover hidden city ticketing.  These lawsuits were brought against individuals by well-established global airlines.

Rule 16 talks about travel documents.  The passenger when traveling on Delta Air Lines is responsible to ensure that they have all of the travel documents, tourist cards, or visas that is required for the final destination.  The passenger cannot hold the airline liable for cancellation or rescheduling of reservations as a result of a failure to comply with this.  Also, unless the ticket expressly includes meals or ground transportation, the airline is not liable for any loss, damage or expense that may occur as a result of non-compliance[15].

Rule 17 talks about baggage.  This rule discusses checked and carry-on baggage policies and restrictions, along with the general limitation of liability for loss and damage.  The airline is not liable for any preexisting damage or ordinary wear and tear[16].  When accepting baggage at the ticket counter, should the bag be found to have such damage, the customer will sign a limited liability release which is usually found on the back of the baggage tag.  The customer is signing that we (Delta Air Lines) are receiving the bag with the existing damage and that we will not be liable if anything happens when the bag arrives at the final destination.  The limited liability release is also applied to things such as soft-sided golf bags or for cardboard boxes that are checked in.  By signing this release, this protects the airline in the event that the passenger will try to make a damage claim. 

Rule 20 talks about flight delays and cancellations.  In order for this rule to be applicable, the flight delay must be greater than 90 minutes.  If this happens, at the passenger’s request, Delta will cancel the remaining ticket and refund the unused portion of the ticket.  If the passenger does not request a refund, they will be transported on the next flight in the cabin of service purchased.  Also at Delta’s sole discretion, the customer may be transported on another carrier in which Delta has an agreement with.  This rule also talks about when additional amenities are due and what those amenities are, such as hotel accommodations, meal allotments, and ground transportation[17]

When it comes to compensation for delays, there are some special regulations with regard to flights that depart from the European Union (EU) as well as to and from Canada.  If a flight is delayed for a controllable reason when departing from the EU, more than likely you will be entitled to file a compensation claim[18].  Also there are new regulations for flights that are to and from Canada that are effective as of December 15th, 2019.  Similar to the EU, airlines that are operating to and from Canada will be required to pay passengers compensation for flight delays or cancellations that the airline has control over.  This compensation amount will vary based on both the size of the airline and the length of the delay[19].

Rule 21 talks about denied boarding compensation.  This is a very important rule for all revenue air travelers to be made aware of.  Should a customer be involuntarily denied boarding on a flight due to an oversold situation, there is cash compensation to be paid based upon the time of the new flight reaching the passengers final destination.  This rule also addresses any amenities that an airline will provide in addition to the compensation due. Any time that denied boarding compensation (either voluntary or involuntary) a copy of the Denied Boarding Policy in alignment with the DOT is provided[20].

I wanted to shift gears and now talk about some of the famous legal cases that airlines have been involved with regarding their contract of carriage.  They both have to do with hidden city ticketing.

When it comes to fare routings, trying to find an alternative route with the sole intention of circumnavigating fare rules is generally a violation of the contract of carriage.  German airline Lufthansa attempted to sue a passenger in October of 2018 for failure to flying his return flight in completion.  The customer booked a return ticket from Oslo to Seattle; however on the return he did not take his flight from Frankfurt to Oslo.  He instead purchased a separate reservation on Lufthansa to fly from Frankfurt to Berlin.  The airline was attempting to collect €2,112 in damages as they saw this as a violation of their terms and conditions however the case was thrown out in December of 2018 in Berlin[21].

This case came after a few years in November of 2014 when United Airlines and online travel agency Orbitz filed suit in Chicago  to sue Mr. Aktarer Zaman who started a website called “Skipplagged.com” to essentially help passengers cheat the fare rules by finding hidden city ticketing routes and re-directing the traffic to the airlines website to purchase these hidden fares[22].  Orbitz settled their suit in February of 2015 however United kept on fighting their legal battle.  United was trying to recoup the thousands of dollars that they stated was lost revenue due to the stated “unfair competition” and “deceptive behavior” that Mr. Zaman’s website was promoting.  Eventually the case was thrown out of court because of a technicality.  The judge stated that the court did not have jurisdiction over the case because Mr.  Zaman did not live or do business in the city[23].

In summarizing this paper, if anything is to be learned from this is to be an educated consumer.  It pays to take the time to read the fine print or the “Terms and Conditions” of a purchase to make sure that you are fully aware of the rules and regulations of the transaction that you are about to agree to.  Working in this industry I have definitely been able to take these practices of being an educated consumer and applying them to my daily life outside of the work.  It helps to set my reasonable expectations as a consumer.
Works Cited:

Works Cited (cont.):


[1] Contract of carriage. (2019, January 26). Retrieved December 4, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contract_of_carriage.

[2] Warsaw Convention. (2019, November 20). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warsaw_Convention.

[3] Iata. (n.d.). The Montreal Convention 1999 (MC99). Retrieved December 4, 2019, from https://www.iata.org/policy/smarter-regulation/Pages/mc99.aspx.

[4] IATA. The Montreal Convention (1999, May 28). PDF.

[5] IATA. The Montreal Convention (1999, May 28). PDF.

[6] American Airlines. (n.d.). Conditions of carriage. Retrieved December 6, 2019, from https://www.aa.com/i18n/customer-service/support/conditions-of-carriage.jsp?anchorEvent=false&from=footer?.

[7] United Airlines. (n.d.). Contract of Carriage. Retrieved December 2019, from https://www.united.com/ual/en/us/fly/contract.html.

[8] Contract Of Carriage. (n.d.). Retrieved December 4, 2019, from https://www.delta.com/us/en/legal/contract-of-carriage-igr.

[9] Delta Air Lines. Contract of Carriage: International (2019, June 18). PDF.

[10] Delta Air Lines. Contract of Carriage: International Rule 2 (2019, June 18). PDF.

[11] Delta Air Lines. Contract of Carriage: International Rule 7 (2019, June 18). PDF.

[12] Delta Air Lines. Contract of Carriage: International Rule 14 (2019, June 18). PDF.

[13] Delta Air Lines. (n.d.). Check-In and Security. Retrieved December 7, 2019, from https://www.delta.com/us/en/check-in-security/check-in-time-requirements/domestic-check-in.

[14] Delta Air Lines. Contract of Carriage: International Rule 15 (2019, June 18). PDF.

[15] Delta Air Lines. Contract of Carriage: International Rule 16 (2019, June 18). PDF.

[16] Delta Air Lines. Contract of Carriage: International Rule 17 (2019, June 18). PDF.

[17] Delta Air Lines. Contract of Carriage: International Rule 20 (2019, June 18). PDF.

[18] Walker, V. (2019, April 2). Was Your European Flight Delayed or Canceled? You May Be Entitled to Cash. Retrieved December 8, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/02/travel/european-delayed-or-canceled-flight-compensation.html.

[19] Canadian Transportation Agency. (2019, July 8). Air Passenger Protection Regulations Highlights. Retrieved December 8, 2019, from https://otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/air-passenger-protection-regulations-highlights.

[20] Delta Air Lines. Contract of Carriage: International Rule 21 (2019, June 18). PDF.

[21] John, T., & Schmidt, N. (2019, February 13). Airline sues passenger who skipped his flight. Retrieved December 8, 2019, from https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/lufthansa-sues-passenger-scli-intl/index.html.

[22] Gillespie, P., & Smith, A. (2015, February 13). Game is not over in United Airlines vs 22-year-old. Retrieved December 8, 2019, from https://money.cnn.com/2015/02/13/news/companies/united-airlines-orbitz-skiplagged/?iid=EL

[23] Gillespie, P. (2015, May 1). Judge throws out United Airlines lawsuit against 22-year-old. Retrieved December 8, 2019, from https://money.cnn.com/2015/05/01/investing/united-airlines-lawsuit-skiplagged/index.html.

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