Contract of carriage

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A contract of carriage is a contract between a carrier of cargo or passengers and the consignor, consignee or passenger.[1] Contracts of carriage typically define the rights, duties and liabilities of parties to the contract, addressing topics such as acts of God and including clauses such as force majeure (removing liability for extraordinary occurrences beyond control of the parties).[2] Among common carriers, they are usually evidenced by standard terms and conditions printed on the reverse of a ticket or carriage document. Notification of a shipment’s arrival is usually sent to the "notify party", whose address appears on the shipping document. This party is usually either the buyer or the importer.

Carriage by sea[edit]

Paul Todd notes that the 1950 legal case of Heskell v. Continental Express ([1950] 1 All E.R. 1033) provides a "good description of [the] process of carriage", including the roles of forwarding agents and loading brokers in this process.[3]

Rail travel[edit]

Cross-border European railway tickets are covered by the CIV conditions of sale.

Air travel[edit]

In July 2010, it became widely public that Southwest Airlines had classified mechanical difficulties as an act of God in their contract of carriage, expanding the definition formerly shared with Delta, American, Continental and United.[4] This was later clarified by the airline as mechanical difficulties beyond the airline's control, as for instance the failure of the air traffic control system, or fuel delivery systems operated by airports.

Involuntary denied boarding[edit]

Airlines may sell more tickets for a flight than the number of seats that are actually available. This overselling can result in too many passengers turning up for a flight. When this happens, the airline first asks for volunteers to give up their seat in return for compensation. However, if there are not enough volunteers, the airline itself designates which passengers will have to give up their seats. This process is called involuntary denied boarding or (less formally) bumping.[5]

The proportion of passengers who are involuntarily denied boarding is around 1 in 10,000, and has been falling for the 25 years between 1990 and 2015.[6]

According to aviation analyst Henry Harteveldt, the airlines' contracts of carriage favour the company, not the passenger. Involuntary denial of boarding is not uncommon,[7] but removal after boarding because the seat is needed by others is "exceedingly rare". Nonetheless, an airline has a right to do so based on the contract, in his view. "Remember, it is their aircraft and their seat — you're just renting it to get from point A to point B", Harteveldt told Business Insider in 2017.[8]


  1. ^ "CONTRACT OF CARRIAGE Definition & Legal Meaning". Black's Law Dictionary (2nd ed.). Retrieved January 24, 2023.
  2. ^ "CONDITIONS OF CARRIAGE Definition & Legal Meaning". Black's Law Dictionary (2nd ed.). Retrieved January 24, 2023.
  3. ^ Todd, P., Carriage contracts, updated 3 May 1997, archived 14 December 2010, accessed 1 October 2023
  4. ^ "Southwest: Breakdown is now an act of God". Arizona Daily Star. July 24, 2010. Retrieved 2010-07-27.
  5. ^ "Bumping & Oversales". U.S. Department of Transportation. April 15, 2021. Archived from the original on November 15, 2022. Retrieved November 17, 2022.
  6. ^ US DOT, Passengers Boarded and Denied Boarding by the Largest U.S. Air Carriers
  7. ^ "United bumps more passengers than any other large American airline". The Economist. April 11, 2017. Retrieved April 12, 2017.
  8. ^ Zhang, Benjamin (April 10, 2017). "How airlines like United choose who to kick off a flight". Business Insider. Business Insider Inc. Retrieved April 12, 2017.

External links[edit]

Individual airlines' contracts