A contract of carriage describes an air carrier’s obligations to a person.  In other words, it is the rights a passenger receives in exchange for buying a ticket with an airline.

Contracts of carriage often tell:

  • Flight cancellation policies;
  • Baggage loss and damages policies;
  • Airline boarding policies;
  • Denied boarding compensation policies;
  • Luggage policies for checked-in luggage and carry-ons

What Are Some Common Terms on a Contract of Carriage?

Although the contracts will defer from airline to airline, the airline industry uses the same basic template.

First, most contract of carriages make no guarantees about the time or schedule printed on the ticket. Airliners often include a provision that round-way trips be used completely; “saving” a portion of the ticket for other use is often prohibited.

Second, if the plane is unable to get the passengers to the agreed destination, the airline company has no legal obligation to find a hotel or other place of accommodation. Airliners might do it for public relations, but their contracts will not make them responsible if they feel they can’t spare the money.

Third, most airliners will deny they owe a duty to refund lost bags. Many airliners have also taken out any guarantees about bags being on the same plane as the passenger they belong to.

Do Airliners Still Have To Guarantee Passage On the Next Available Flight If My Flight Is Delayed?

No. Although a federal law known as Rule 240 used to provide for passage on the next available flight if a plane was delayed for reasons other than weather, that provision has since been removed because of airline perceptions that it was too taxing on their resources (remember that the rule provided for the next available flight, not just for the airliner’s own flights).

Although airliners may still choose to include such a rule in their contract of carriage, they are under no obligation to. Even if they do have some version of the rule in their contract though, “Rule 240” will not be indicated by name.

Will The Contract of Carriage Actually Be Enforced?

This will depend on the situation and the provision actually in the contract. The contract of carriage is a contract like any other contract and thus must follow all the rules of contract law. If the contract is deemed relevant and legal, the contract would be a complete defense from any liability for that case. However, the contract of carriage cannot bar certain types of liability, no matter how well written:

  • Intention Actions– If the airline intentionally misplaces bags or is involved in any other purposeful behavior such as discrimination, the contract will not cover the incident.
  • Gross Negligence – Regular carelessness is covered by contracts, but a complete inability to meet the standards of the industry is not as easily excused.
  • Medical Emergencies or Criminal Behavior – Failure to act properly in these situations cannot be defended by citing a contract. However, other defenses may still be raised.

When to Read a Contract of Carriage?

The best thing to do is Google “[airline name]’s contract of carriage” before you book a flight.  This contract is very important because one understands his or her rights in situations such as cancelled flights, lost baggage, not being able to board for reasons out of one’s control, or luggage related issues.  It is essential that a passenger understands what the airline owes them in return for a purchased ticket.

Why Would I Need an Attorney?

Often people do not read this contract, do not know their rights, and then complain that an airline has caused them harm in some way; i.e. monetary harm, emotional distress, etc. Contract lawyers specializing in contracts would be ideal in order to understand what an airline owes you, and to receive recovery.