Legal Brief for June, 2017

Air Travel - Beware Of The Fine Print!

As summer approaches many of us are planning a holiday trip, either within Canada or to another country.  With the advent of online reservations and the decline of travel agents, the booking of airline tickets has become a routine matter for most travelers.  Its all so easy - open up the website, search the flight options, select, input data, pay and submit - all done!  Your friendly airline then sends you a reservation confirmation by e-mail.  You quickly scan the first page or two just to make sure that you actually reserved the flights you wanted to and the airline didn't add any surprise fees.

The other seven or eight pages of that e-mail - who has time to read all that right?  I think that sums up the approach most of us have to our trip bookings, even those of us in the legal world who are forever telling our clients to "read the fine print!".  You might just find it interesting, and alarming, to actually dig into that seemingly never ending stream of pages after your initial ticket information.

Here are a few things contained in those pages that you may find surprising:

  1. you specifically book your flight for a particular time in order to arrive at your destination in time for a special event, and you book on a flight with a larger size of aircraft because you don't like how the smaller planes bounce around in the air - so you assume that your airline is at fault if they don't get you there as per your reservation (unless a major weather event intervenes).  Wrong!  The fine print states: "time and aircraft type are approximate and not guaranteed and form no part of the contract, and schedules are subject to change without notice."

  2. you are traveling to England to visit some family relatives and you pack some valuable heirloom silver ware in your luggage to pass on to the relatives.  The silverware has been appraised at a value of $8,000.00.  You arrive at Heathrow Airport at London and to your dismay your suitcase doesn't come down the luggage chute.  The airline regretfully informs you several weeks later that the suitcase is "lost".  You think, "well, at least I can get reimbursed from the airline for the value of the silverware".  Wrong!  Under an international treaty on air travel known as the Montreal Convention the airline only has to payout a maximum per passenger of $1,663.00 (U.S.) for claims arising from lost luggage.

  3. you decide to book a "premium" seat on your flight in order to gain some additional leg room because your knees start to cramp up after more than 30 minutes squeezed into what now passes for standard seat space.  You arrive at the check in counter and are informed that your seat assignment has been changed and you are now back in the 2nd last row of the plane crammed in like the rest of the passengers.  You react with dismay and with a rising voice demand of the boarding agent that you insist on being able to sit in your seat that you paid an extra $50.00 for.  Wrong!  The "conditions of carriage" that form part of your contract with your airline allow it to move you from your reserved seat for "any reason".  The airline will however most considerately reimburse you for the extra charge you paid for the premium seat (but of course only after you fill out and mail in their claim form and then wait several weeks for the payment to arrive).

Happy holiday this summer, and may the travel gods be with you!

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