What Are The Warsaw and Montreal Conventions?

Why these two documents matter for travelers

Airplane taking off with lightning in the sky
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Many international travelers have heard of the Warsaw and Montreal Conventions but may have given it little thought outside of filling out contact information on the back of an airline ticket. As an important part of aviation history, both conventions offer travelers valuable protection around the world. No matter where travelers fly, their travels are almost always affected by these two important conventions.

The Warsaw Convention was originally signed into effect in 1929 and has since been amended twice. Over 20 years later, The Montreal Convention replaced the Warsaw Convention to provide travelers additional important protections that govern airlines obligations. Today, over 109 parties, including the entire European Union, have agreed to abide by the Montreal Convention, providing travelers unified protection while they travel. 

How do the two conventions offer aid to travelers in the worst case situation? Here are the key historical facts about the Warsaw Convention and Montreal Convention every traveler needs to know. 

The Warsaw Convention

First signed into effect in 1929, the Warsaw Convention provided the first set of rules for the budding industry of international commercial aviation. Because the Convention’s rules were amended at The Hague in 1955 and Montreal in 1975, some courts viewed the original convention as a separate entity from the following two amendments.

The original convention set in place several guaranteed rights that all travelers have come to appreciate today. The Warsaw Convention set the standard to issue physical tickets for all air travelers, and the right to baggage check tickets for luggage trusted to airlines for delivery at a travelers’ final destination.

 More importantly, the Warsaw Convention (and the subsequent amendments) set damages for travelers in the event of the worst case scenario.

The Warsaw Convention set the benchmark for liability that airlines had for luggage in their care. For signatory countries of the Convention, airlines operating in those countries were liable for 17 Special Drawing Rights (SDR) per kilogram of checked luggage lost or destroyed. This would be later amended in Montreal to add $20 per kilogram of checked luggage lost or destroyed for those countries that did not sign on with the 1975 amendments. In order to receive money guaranteed by the Warsaw Convention, a claim must be brought forward within two years of the loss.

In addition, the Warsaw Convention created the standard for personal injury suffered by travelers as a result of an aviation incident. Those passengers injured or killed while flying on a common air carrier could be entitled to a maximum of 16,600 SDR, convertible to their local currency.

The Montreal Convention

In 1999, the Montreal Convention replaced and further clarified the protections offered travelers by the Warsaw Convention. As of January 2015, 108 members of the International Civil Aviation Organization have signed on to the Montreal Convention, representing over half of the United Nations organization’s membership.

Under the Montreal Convention, travelers are granted additional protections under the law, while extending certain rights to airlines. Airlines operating in nations that have signed on to the Montreal Convention are obligated to carry liability insurance and are responsible for damages that arise to passengers while traveling on their airline. Common carriers operating in the 109 member nations are obligated to at least 1131 SDR of damages in cases of injury or death. While travelers can seek more compensation in court, airlines can negate those damages if they can prove that the damages were not directly caused by the airline.

In addition, the Montreal Convention set damages for lost or destroyed luggage based on individual pieces. Travelers are entitled to a maximum of 1,131 SDR if luggage is lost or otherwise destroyed.

In addition, airlines are required to pay travelers for expenses due to misplaced luggage.

How Travel Insurance is Affected by the Conventions

While the Montreal Convention offers guaranteed protections, the provisions many not replace the need for travel insurance. There are many additional protections that travelers may want that a travel insurance policy can provide.

For example, many travel insurance policies offer an accidental death and dismemberment benefit while traveling on a common carrier. The accidental death and dismemberment guarantee payment up to the limit of the policy in the event that a traveler loses life or limb while flying on an airline.

In addition, while damage or loss of checked luggage is protected, luggage is sometimes more valuable than the maximum provisions. Most travel insurance policies also carry a baggage loss benefit, in the event that baggage is temporarily delayed or lost entirely. Travelers who have their luggage lost can receive daily compensation as long as their luggage is gone.

By understanding the importance of the Warsaw and Montreal Conventions, travelers can understand the rights they are entitled to while traveling. This allows travelers to make better decisions and stand more empowered when their travels go wrong.