Recent overseas air crashes involving Australians are tragic reminders of the importance of booking every leg of an international journey – especially side trips – from home.
Under air carriage law in most countries, the liability of airlines, charter companies and their pilots is “capped”.
The amount of the cap depends on the airline and the country where the accident occurred or, in some cases, where the flight was ticketed.
Some countries have very low liability caps. For example, in Indonesia, the maximum available compensation (“cap”) is around $8,000 even for catastrophic injuries or death. Most African countries are similar. In New Zealand, there is no compensation at all.1
However, where the internal flights are booked as part of the international itinerary, the liability limit can be that which applies in the country where the booking is made.
Taking last year’s Kokoda tragedy as an example, families of those passengers ticketed from Australia will have access to far greater airline compensation than those who purchased tickets for the internal flight in Papua New Guinea.
As last weekend’s Congo crash illustrates, side trips often present a higher safety risk than international airline flights among other things, because of the geography of the destination. That’s just another reason to make sure the highest level of compensation applies if an accident occurs, by booking before you go.
Popular side trips often taken by tourists include the Milford Sound or Bay of Islands in New Zealand or inter-island flights in Fiji and other Asia-Pacific destinations.
Australia’s international carriage compensation regime was updated on 24 January 2009 so that the Montréal convention 1999 now applies. An airline is automatically liable for injuries up to $200,000 but will also be presumed liable for all additional passenger losses with no upper limit, unless the airline proves the accident wasn’t its fault.
This also has implications for the Australian taxpayer. If for example, an employee of Australian business or government is seriously injured on an internal Africa flight that was booked in Africa, the airline and its insurer escape all liability for the injured passenger’s injuries that exceeds the fixed cap. That leaves the Australian taxpayer to pick up the bill for the remainder of the passenger’s injuries through WorkCover schemes, Medicare and public hospitals.
Governments and corporations should ensure that they mandate the requirement to book the domestic legs of international travel by staff, as part of an international itinerary.
1 Examples of liability limits in the Asian region include: Malaysia $12,600; Indonesia $6,200; Thailand $15,000 – $25,000; Philippines $25,000 – $32000.