An air carrier’s responsibilities to a person are laid forth in a contract of carriage. In other terms, it refers to the privileges a traveler gains from purchasing a ticket from an airline.
Flight cancellation rules, baggage loss and damage policies, airline boarding policies, and denied boarding compensation policies are frequently specified in contracts of carriage.
Checked-In and Carry-On Baggage Regulations
Carriage contracts often outline the rights, obligations, and responsibilities of the parties, covering issues like acts of God and containing phrases like force majeure. They are typically demonstrated by the standard terms and conditions stated on the back of a ticket or other transportation document among common carriers. The “notify party,” whose address can be found on the shipping paperwork, is often notified of a shipment’s arrival. Typically, either the buyer or the importer is this party.
What Clauses Are Typically Found in a Carriage Contract?
The airline business employs the same fundamental structure, despite the fact that the contracts vary from airline to airline.
The majority of contracts for carriages offer no assurances regarding the time or schedule listed on the ticket. Airlines sometimes include a clause requiring round-trip tickets to be used entirely; “saving” a portion of the ticket for another use is frequently forbidden.
Second, the airline corporation is not required by law to locate a hotel or other form of lodging if the plane is unable to transport the passengers to the prearranged location. Although airlines may do it for publicity purposes, their contracts will not hold them accountable if they feel they cannot afford to do it.
Third, most airlines will contest any obligation to compensate for missing bags. Numerous airlines have also removed any assurances that the passenger’s bag would be on the same aircraft.
Travel by Air
In July 2010, it was widely reported that Southwest Airlines had expanded the concept of an act of God that it previously shared with Delta, American, Continental, and United by classifying technical difficulties as such in their contract of carriage.
The airline later emphasized that this was due to mechanical issues that were out of its control, such as malfunctions with airport fuel distribution systems or the air traffic control system.
Unwilling Refusal of Boarding
Around 1 in 10,000 passengers are forcibly denied boarding, a rate that has been declining for years.
Henry Harteveldt, an aviation specialist, claims that the airline’s contract of carriage favors the business rather than the customer. Unwilling refusal to board is not unusual, but being removed after boarding because another passenger needs the seat is “exceedingly rare.” However, in his opinion, an airline has a right to do so based on the contract. As Harteveldt reminded Business Insider, “remember, it is their aircraft and their seat — you are just borrowing it to fly from point A to point B.”
If My Flight is Delayed, are Airlines Still Required to Guarantee a Seat on the Next Available Flight?
No. Although a federal law known as Rule 240 used to guarantee boarding on the subsequent flight if an aircraft was delayed for a reason other than weather, that provision has since been eliminated due to airline perceptions that it was too resource-intensive (keep in mind that the rule guaranteed boarding on the subsequent flight, not just for the airliner’s own flights).
Although airlines still have the option to do so, they are not required to do so in their contract of carriage. However, even if they do include some variation of the regulation in their contract, “Rule 240” won’t be mentioned specifically.
Will The Carriage Contract Actually Be Upheld?
This will depend on the circumstances and the actual contract provision. The contract for carriage must go by all the principles of contract law because it is a contract just like any other.
The contract would constitute a complete defense from any culpability in that case if it were determined to be relevant and legal. No matter how well stated, the contract of carriage cannot prohibit some kinds of liability:
- Actions Taken with Intent: The contract will not apply if the airline purposefully loses bags or engages in any other intentional conduct, such as discrimination.
- Gross Negligence: Contracts typically cover ordinary carelessness, but they do not always excuse a complete failure to satisfy industry standards.
- Medical Emergencies or Criminal Activity: Inaction in these circumstances cannot be justified by referencing a contract. Other barriers, though, might still be put up.
When Should I Read a Carriage Contract?
Before making a flight reservation, it is best to Google “[airline name contract ]’s contract of carriage]. This contract is crucial since it clarifies one’s rights in cases like canceled flights, missing luggage, being denied boarding due to circumstances beyond one’s control, and luggage-related problems. A traveler must be aware of what they are entitled to from the airline in exchange for their ticket purchase.
It’s important to note that several of these contracts have been amended in recent months as news of airline service meltdowns has spread, though not nearly enough. Don’t be misled: All domestic airline contracts have issues and omissions, but there are notable variances among them, and some are marginally better than others.
These agreements are referred to as “take-it-or-leave-it” contracts by lawyers. Input your credit card, and you agree to all 69 pages of Virgin America’s paperwork or United’s 51 printed pages of binding conditions. You can’t fly if you don’t swipe. If you look long and hard enough, you can find these contracts on the websites of the airlines.
Why There is No Industry Uniformity: Each Domestic Airline Publishes its Own Contract of Carriage.
Even lawyers have difficulty analyzing the ambiguous terminology included in Hard copies of these documents. They are getting harder to find on airline websites, and not all airline employees, let alone outsourced airline representatives, know how to read them.
Due to federal preemption, passengers are severely limited in their ability to resolve disputes through channels other than federal courts.
Could Be, Could Not
In the event that your flight is canceled, Alaska’s contract states that “hotel accommodations may be supplied.” This wasn’t always the case. A Consumer Reports Travel Letter piece from 1985 described airline responses to a thorough study on passenger accommodations. The journal noted consistency in policies: “Airlines also routinely pay for meals in airport restaurants if the delay lasts past a normal meal time.” Sure, there were anachronisms (free long-distance phone cards and free telexes overseas!).
The Airlines Make the Choice
Numerous laws are arbitrary. The Voluntary Denied Boarding policy for Virgin America is as follows: “Guests who voluntarily decline boarding will be offered accommodation as determined in the sole discretion of Virgin America Team Members staffing the aircraft.”
You Must Inquire
Several contracts provide services and choices to travelers, but solely “at the passenger’s request exclusively,” as United puts it. Therefore, you bear the responsibility; you won’t get it if you don’t ask.
Why Might I Need a Lawyer?
People frequently complain that an airline has harmed them in some way, such as financially or emotionally, without having read this contract or knowing their rights. The best option for figuring out what an airline owes you and getting compensation would be to speak with contract lawyers who specialize in contracts.