Aircraft accident waiting to happen? Passengers stand in aisles on overbooked flight
It has been reported that Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), the national carrier of Pakistan, put lives in danger by forcing passengers to stand in the aisles of an overbooked flight from Karachi to Medina. PIA denies the allegations. If true, PIA would be in breach of aviation safety regulations and would have undoubtedly faced passenger compensation claims if disaster had struck the overcrowded flight.
The flight in question is claimed to have been PK-743 on 20 January 2017. The Boeing 777 aircraft can only seat 409 passengers and yet 416 travelled that day. This has led to questioning as to how the extra 7 passengers travelled for the scheduled flight time of approximately three hours from Karachi in Pakistan to Saudi Arabia’s Medina.
The airline has confirmed that 416 passengers were on the flight, but denies that the extra passengers were forced to stand in the aisles.
The captain has told local newspaper Dawn that he was not notified of the extra passenger numbers by the cabin purser until after take off. It is reported that the captain and two crew members have been disciplined for the incident.
If passengers were forced to stand in the aisles, this would constitute a serious breach of civil aviation safety regulations. In particular, in the case of an emergency the standing passengers would not have access to oxygen masks. Keeping aisles clear is essential for passenger evacuation and additional passengers would cause congestion. The standing passengers would also be at risk of suffering injury and causing harm to other passengers during turbulence, as they would not have seatbelts to keep them secure.
The incident comes just a month after the deadly crash of a PIA flight PK-661 on 7 December 2016. The aircraft crashed into mountains in northern Pakistan, killing all 48 passengers and crew on board.
Aircraft passenger compensation rights
The laws that apply to passengers killed or injured in accidents during international air travel are different to the laws that apply to non-aviation personal injury claims in Australia. In such circumstances, international conventions provide passengers rights to claim compensation from the airline. The most common convention is the Montreal Convention 1999. Both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are signatories to this convention, so it would apply to most if not all passengers on flight PK-743.
Under the terms of the Montreal Convention, which has been incorporated into Australian law, airlines are liable to pay compensation for bodily injury to passengers up to a certain monetary threshold regardless of whether the air carrier was negligent. For claims above this threshold, an airline or its employees / agents must be at fault.
In the case of PK-743, if passengers had been forced to stand and were injured during the flight, for example during a bout of turbulence, it would be extremely difficult for PIA to disprove negligence.
Real life Stacks Goudkamp cases
Our travel lawyers at Stacks Goudkamp are experienced in bringing claims against airlines under the Montreal Convention. Whilst claims arising from overbooked airlines such as this are uncommon, accidents occur during air travel more often than the general public might think. Examples of successful Stacks Goudkamp claims include injuries sustained whilst climbing external stairs to an aircraft, injuries caused by dropped cabin baggage, and serious injuries caused in a light plane air crash. Full details about these claims can be found on our aircraft accident case studies page.
The laws that apply to passengers injured during air travel are complex and there are short deadlines to make a claim. If you have been injured on an aircraft, you should seek expert advice from a lawyer who specialises in this area of law. For a no obligation discussion about your circumstances, contact our friendly and knowledgeable travel law department on 1800 25 1800 or make an online enquiry.
Written by Victoria Roy.
Victoria Roy is Practice Group Leader of Stacks Goudkamp’s Travel Law Department. Victoria has successfully acted for injured Plaintiffs in cases against airlines brought under the Montreal Convention, as well as claims arising from accidents that arise on cruise ships and in hotels and resorts overseas.