Passengers battle airlines in court

WASHINGTON, 29 December 2016: FlyersRights, a US-based airline passenger organisation, and Travellers United, have joined forces with an aggrieved airline passenger whose personal injury claim was denied by a Federal Appeals court.

In a short 2-1 decision, the 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals struck a blow against airline passenger rights with claims against airlines by refusing to recognise claims filed within two years in another country, unless also filed in a US court within the same two years.

There was, however, a lengthy dissenting opinion according to FlyersRights and Travellers United prompting them to file an ‘amicus curiae’ brief with the Supreme Court in support of the aggrieved passenger’s appeal.

Passengers walk through the newly opened Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal in Atlanta, Georgia

In Von Schoenebeck v. KLM, a seat back collapsed on the head of a passenger on a flight from South Africa to San Francisco, causing severe spinal injuries. The airline refused compensation, even up to the strict liability amount found in the Montreal Convention.

Instead, KLM sought a bond for its own attorney fees and costs from the passenger in the South African court of over USD20,000, based on a law that discriminates against non-resident litigants.

The airline suggested the passenger litigate in the United States. But when the passenger filed in California, KLM sought and obtained dismissal based on a novel interpretation of the two-year statute of limitations in the Montreal Convention, the treaty governing passenger rights in international air travel.

FlyersRights president, Paul Hudson, noted: “This is a shocking decision that needs review by the United States Supreme Court which has yet to interpret the Montreal Convention’s statute of limitations.”

“The Montreal Convention was designed to achieve global uniformity in the law governing claims against airlines.  It provides for both strict airline liability and strict limitations on compensation amounts. But unless this decision is reversed, many airline passengers on international trips will now have to file claims against airlines in multiple national courts in order to preserve their compensation rights for flight delays, baggage loss and damage, as well as for personal injury and death.” also has an appeal pending in the Washington DC Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the FAA’s refusal to regulate seat size and leg room on airliners, see Limitation Of Seat Size Reduction FAA-2015-4011. The court case is Flyers Rights Education Fund v FAA Case No. 16-1101.


It has also filed a rulemaking petition to the DOT to require airlines notify passengers of their delay compensation rights.

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