Court considers “single operation” issue in baggage case

Gerard v. American Airlines, Inc. (Conn. Super. July 12, 2007).  After the passenger filed a lawsuit against American for lost baggage damages, the airline moved for partial summary judgment on the grounds that its damages were limited by the Montreal Convention.  The passenger argued that his damages were not limited by the Convention because the flight at issue, from Los Angeles to New York (following a flight from Tokyo to Los Angeles on a different airline earlier the same day), constituted domestic travel rather than “international carriage” covered by the Convention.

Article 1 of the Convention addresses the scope of its application.  Article 1(1) provides that the Convention “applies to all international carriage of persons, baggage or cargo performed by aircraft for reward,” as well as “to gratuitous carriage by aircraft performed by an air transport undertaking.”

Article 1(2) defines “international carriage” as “any carriage in which, according to the agreement between the parties, the place of departure and the place of destination, whether or not there be a break in the carriage or a transhipment, are situated either within the territories of two States Parties, or within the territory of a single State Party if there is an agreed stopping place within the territory of another State, even if that State is not a State Party.  Carriage between two points within the territory of a single State Party without an agreed stopping place within the territory of another State is not international carriage for the purposes of this Convention.”

Article 1(3) provides that “[c]arriage to be performed by several successive carriers is deemed, for the purposes of this Convention, to be one undivided carriage if it has been regarded by the parties as a single operation, whether it had been agreed upon under the form of a single contract or of a series of contracts, and it does not lose its international character merely because one contract or a series of contracts is to be performed entirely within the territory of the same State” (emphasis added).

To decide the question of whether the flight at issue was governed by the Convention, the court attempted to determine if the parties had regarded it as part of a “single operation.”  To do this, the court tried to analyze the ticket at issue and the passenger’s overall itinerary as “objective” evidence of the parties’ intent.  However, the court was unable to do so because neither party had submitted authenticated copies of the ticket or evidence regarding American’s awareness of the passenger’s international itinerary at the time he bought his ticket.  Accordingly, the court denied American’s motion for partial summary judgment.

Note:  How does a court determine whether an airline “regarded” a passenger’s carriage as a single operation?  One way is through the passenger’s travel agent, if one was used.  The agent’s knowledge of the passenger’s “travel intentions” is “imputed to the carrier.”  Robertson v. American Airlines, Inc. (D.C. Cir. 2005).

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