When Pina Belfiore-Benvenuto’s bags were lost on a recent flight from New York to Paris, the missing contents included a digital camera and a watch — two items that her airline’s contract of carriage exclude from liability. And to absolutely no one’s surprise, her carrier told her she was out of luck.
Maybe it shouldn’t have.
A recent Transportation Department guidance statement on airline baggage liability and responsibilities (PDF) says those blanket disclaimers are out of line with international law.
We have become aware of tariff provisions filed by several carriers that attempt, with respect to checked baggage, to exclude certain items, generally high-cost or fragile items such as electronics, cameras, jewelry or antiques, from liability for damage, delay, loss or theft. A typical provision found in carrier tariffs and disclosed on carrier websites states that the carrier does not assume liability for loss, damage, or delay of “certain specific items, including: . . . antiques, documents, electronic equipment, film, jewelry, keys, manuscripts, medication, money, paintings, photographs . . . .”
Such exclusions, while not prohibited in domestic contracts of carriage, are in contravention of Article 17 of the Montreal Convention (Convention), as revised on May 28, 1999.
In other words, an airline can continue to refuse to compensate passengers for lost items that are considered “valuables” on domestic routes. But not internationally. Specifically,
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