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Treaty protects travelers, expedites claims

February 10, 2011

Air travelers filing for grievances can now say “good riddance” to bureaucratic paperwork, frustrating delays and complicated settlements, thanks to the Montreal Convention, an international treaty that establishes more rights for airline travelers.

The treaty, which Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly ratified on Jan. 20, outlines several new clauses to assist airline passengers injured while traveling. It also calls for more efficient methods of compensation for passengers facing delays and other unexpected setbacks while traveling.

In the event of death or major injuries, passengers will now be compensated more for damages through payment by an international currency called Special Drawing Rights (SDR). The treaty raises the ceiling for settlement payments to 100,000 SDR, the equivalent of about $64,000, as of Feb. 1. The settlement cap was 16,000 SDR, or about $10,000, before the new treaty.

Airlines are also now required to pay up front for medical expenses in the case of accidents. That amount would be deducted from the total claim filed later. Local authorities where passengers file the claims would be responsible for calculating total settlement amounts.

Passenger rights outlined by the Montreal Treaty are inalienable, and benefits can be demanded in any ratifying country where flight companies are registered, making it easier for victims to file claims.

As an extra advantage of this new protection system, passengers are entitled to use their digital tickets as proof of contract with the airline, a helpful improvement when compared to the prior regulatory system, which required physical paperwork as proof of commercial relationships with the airlines.

“Under the old rules of the Warsaw Treaty, clients had to show up in court with long documents and tickets containing about 200 written clauses in order to start any compensatory legal process. It was a hassle,” says Miguel Solano, a legal advisor to the Civil Aviation Authority. 

In Costa Rica, travelers filing a claim against an airline should start the process in civil court. Governments are also now allowed to initiate settlement claims on behalf of citizens under certain circumstances, according to the treaty.

Costa Rican lawmakers approved the treaty 12 years after the International Civil Aviation Organization first promoted it as a tool to substitute the outdated Warsaw Treaty of 1929.

The Montreal Treaty adopts the latest international flight laws and creates one consolidated regulatory tool that will likely help Costa Rica become a modernized participant in international flight markets.

“We are taking a step forward and ensuring better traveling conditions for passengers under very strict clauses. The terms and conditions are now equally clear for both the airlines and passengers, and this will lead to better protection for people,” Solano said.

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