The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) formally declared as a pandemic on March 11, 2020 by the World Health Organisation (“WHO”), has caused unprecedented disruption to economic and social activities globally.
Air Carriers in particular as potential vectors of the disease between and within countries, have been badly hit by the almost complete and indefinite suspension of commercial flights, on account of a disease that currently has no cure. Consequently, several countries have closed their land borders, airports, ordered citizens to stay at home and observe social distancing as much as possible during this pandemic.
Beyond the obvious financial impact, putting the survival of many airlines at risk, there may be issues of potential liability for unwittingly transporting the virus from one country to another through infected passengers.
In this article, we intend to address the following questions: what are the duties of Air Carriers regarding the health and safety of their passengers? What recourse do passengers have against an airline for denying boarding, or in respect of flight cancellations or suspensions for public safety considerations? Most importantly, can a passenger successfully sue an airline claiming that they had contracted COVID- 19 from being exposed to an infected passenger on board the aircraft? How much responsibility does the law attribute to such a passenger?