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Should airlines advise passengers of the intended flight route before they fly?

July 24, 2014 Headline News, Travel Law 5 Comments Email Email

egtmedia59Most travellers find out what countries they are flying over when they look at the flight tracking map on the in-flight entertainment screen. Mostly, passengers have not minded what countries they were flying over … until now.

MH17 will change this mind set forever. Travellers will now have heightened concerns if the flight route passes over conflict regions.

Tim Clark, the President of Emirates, has quickly picked up on this and in an interview with Reuters on July 20 2014 said “The International Civil Aviation Organisation … can issue advisories … [but] they may be [need to be] a little more active.” He also said that national regulators “may start getting involved a little more … they have perhaps left airlines [too much] to their own devices.”

This is fair comment. After all, Governments issue travel advisors. On the Australian Government Smart Traveller website, there are currently 11 countries with a Do not travel alert level. They include Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, all of which are countries that airlines can fly over between Australia and Europe. For the record, the current travel advisory for Ukraine is: Reconsider your need to travel.

My question is: Why don’t these travel warnings apply to flying over countries and places of conflict? The answer is there is no clear international policy, hence Tim Clark’s call for an IATA summit on the issue of monitoring and assessing threats posed by regional conflicts to civil aviation.

Which brings me to the point: Should airlines display flight routes for international flights on their website, and include a route map in their flight booking process?

If they did, intending passengers could see for themselves the intended flight route, and if they are not comfortable, exit from the booking process. Assuming they proceed, a flight route code would be printed on the ticket.

Until MH17, no one has thought it necessary for airlines to notify passengers of their intended flight route before boarding the aircraft.

My view is from this point on, airlines which do not disclose to their passengers if their flight routes pass over conflict regions, may be in breach of their duty of care to fly their passengers safely. Airlines in breach may expose themselves to a higher level of claims for death and injury than the liability limits under the Montreal Convention.

Written by : Anthony J Cordato

Currently there are "5 comments" on this Article:

  1. AgentGerko says:

    Intersting thoughts. Must be a surprise to many to hear they’ve been flying over war zones for decades. But then who would have thought that ill-trained rabbles could get their hands on weapons that can shoot down a jet 10km in the air. Well done, superpowers and armament manufacturers.

    The glaring problem with your thoughts Anthony is that no flight has a set route. These change daily because of weather and congestion. What happens if the pilot is halfway from Bangkok to Paris and suddenly gets warned of severe storms en route? Does he just adjust his flight plan to avoid them or does someone need to go down the aisle getting signed clearances from each passenger first?

  2. Hi AgentGerko – good point. What should have added was ‘planned’ before ‘route’, with the airline having the right to alter the route for operational reasons, just like a tour operator has a planned itinerary, which it has the right to alter if circumstances changed.
    You also went straight to the legal basis which is informed consent, when you asked if every passenger had to sign off on a change of route. My view is that the passenger should be given the opportunity to learn of the planned route before they book, so that they book the flight with informed consent. After they book, the airline has the contractual consent to alter the rooute.

  3. AgentGerko says:

    Hi Anthony, I agree passengers should be able to check their planned route for their flight so they can make an informed judgment, although I suspect in six months time things will pretty much return to as they were. Your article was great in pointing out that flights regularly traverse most DFAT warning zones. If airlines were ever told they could not fly over these zones of unrest would they ever get from A to B? Perahps airliners would have to follow the old shipping routes. Sydney to London via either Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope. There’s precious few other options that don’t overfly some regional hotspot. So much for peace inour time, eh?

  4. stingforever says:

    ……i always thought airlines and governments work hand in hand when it comes to passengers’ safety… so i leave up to them, read: trust them, that i am flying over safe routes.. i don’t need to know the routes… if I’m interested i just google it.. but so far seeing the routes during the flight is good enough for me…

  5. Barry says:

    Yes. I was on a BA flight to Malaysia 1990 that landed in the middle of a war zone – it turned out BA were acting as a quasi military carrier to land a British recon team into Kuwait. I, and many fellow passengers, spent 131 days as hostages.

    D notices kept the worse from the press at the time.

    BA149 – From London to KL departed LHR August 1, 1990. After being kept as a human shield hostage – including one mock execution – I next saw England on December 11, 1990

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