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Your guide to aviation accidents

Wreckage of a crashed aeroplane - aviaition accidents

Flying to your holiday destination, family celebration or business meeting is usually a routine that most of us know and generally enjoy.

A record 3.3 billion passengers boarded an aircraft in 2014, which was 170 million more than in 2013, according to the International Air Transport Association - IATA, 2015.

Nevertheless, many remain fearful of stepping onto a plane. And not without good reason. One thing nobody wants to go through is the experience of a mid-air accident.

However, aviation accidents can come in all shapes and forms. Before your plane is even in the sky you can easily slip, trip and fall when boarding, or stumble and bump your head as you try to climb in or out of your passenger seat.

In the often confined space of a full and busy scheduled flight, accidents which can often occur are:

  • Luggage falling from overhead lockers – causing serious head or facial injuries
  • Hot drinks spilt – causing burns and scalds
  • Slipping and tripping – causing cuts, bruises, sprained ankles, head and facial injuries 

Other types of incidents can cause more serious injuries, damage or loss including your plane encountering difficulties during the take off, landing or flight. Some of the most common causes of plane crashes or difficult landings and take offs include:

  • Weather conditions - such as lightning, ice and snow and volcanic ash
  • Birds striking the plane
  • Engine failure or stalling
  • Fire
  • Misinformation - from ground crews, air traffic control or maps.

Your package holiday organiser can be held responsible if you suffered an injury caused by an accident through no fault of your own, which occurred anywhereon hotel property.

But who is responsible if you suffer an illness, accident or injury during the flight, while boarding or disembarking, or in an extreme event, such as an aviation accident or plane crash?

Bringing a claim against a carrier, airport, aircraft supplier or holiday provider will depend on the specific circumstances of your case.

Your Legal Friend has 30 years’ experience of personal injury compensation and specialist knowledge in all aspects of international personal injury law. We can provide you with all the expert guidance you will need to help you succeed in making your claim against an airline, air carrier, UK tour operator, or holiday organiser.


  • 22% of accidents occur during ‘runway excursions’ - where an aircraft lands or takes off (2010 to 2014).
  • 2,467 reported UK bird strikes in 2013          (Civil Aviation Authority, 2013
  • 1,242 ‘Loss of Control In-flight’ accidents occurred between 2010 and 2014.          (IATA Annual Review 2015)
  • 641 passenger fatalities in 2014, up from a five-year average of 571 between 2009 and 2013.. 
  • 73 aircraft accidents in 2014, down from 81 in 2013 and the five-year average (2009- 2013)  of 86 per year.          (Safety Performance - International Air Transport Association IATA, 2014)
  • Only 1 fatal passenger accident per 4,125,000 flights out of 33,000,000 flights worldwide.          (Airliner Accident Statistics - The Aviation Safety Network, 2014)

Definition of an Aviation Accident

An aviation accident refers to an occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft

which takes place between the time any person boards the aircraft with the intention of flight and the time when all such persons have disembarked.

During this defined period of time, a person can be fatally or seriously injured as a result of:

  • Being in the aircraft
  • Direct contact with any part of the aircraft, including parts which have become detached from the aircraft
  • Direct exposure to a jet blast, except when the injuries are from natural causes, self-inflicted or inflicted by other persons
  • The aircraft sustains damage or structural failure which adversely affects the structural strength, performance or flight characteristics of the aircraft
  • Damage resulting from a hail or bird strike
  • The aircraft is missing or is completely inaccessible.

Definition of a serious injury

This is defined as an injury caused to a person in an accident which involves one of the following:

  • Hospitalisation for more than 48 hours, starting within seven days from the date the injury was received
  • Fracture of any bone - except simple fractures of fingers, toes, or nose
  • Lacerations which cause haemorrhage, nerve, muscle or tendon damage
  • Injury to any internal organ
  • Second or third degree burns
  • Confirmed exposure to infectious substances or harmful radiation. 

Definition of a serious incident

A serious incident is where there is the likelihood of an accident associated with the operation of an aircraft, including the following examples:

Take-off and landing

  • A near collision requiring an avoidance manoeuvre
  • When an avoiding manoeuvre would have been appropriate to avoid a collision or an unsafe situation
  • Controlled flight into terrain was only slightly avoided
  • An aborted takeoff
  • A takeoff using a closed, engaged or unassigned runway
  • A landing or attempted landing on a closed, engaged or unassigned runway
  • Gross failure to achieve predicted performance during takeoff or initial climb
  • Takeoff or landing incidents, such as undershooting, overrunning or running off the side of runways.

Fires, Smoke and Oxygen

  • In the engine, cockpit,  passenger or cargo  compartment
  • Any events which require the emergency use of oxygen by the flight crew.

System malfunctions

  • Aircraft structural failure or engine disintegration
  • Uncontained turbine engine failure, which is not classified as an accident
  • Multiple malfunctions of one or more aircraft systems that seriously affect the operation of the aircraft
  • Any fuel state which would require the declaration of an emergency by the pilot
  • Failure of more than one system in a redundancy system which is mandatory for flight guidance and navigation
  • Weather phenomena or other occurrences which caused or could have caused difficulties controlling the aircraft
  • Any case of flight crew incapacitation in flight. 

If you have an accident onboard a plane...

The rules about making a claim for an aviation accident are different to those that apply to accidents that occur at a hotel or resort abroad.

The Terms and Conditions contained in your ‘Contract of Carriage’, which is supplied by both Tour operators and airlines, are bound by regulations set out in the Montreal Convention.

The Montreal Convention - Travel by Air

The Convention operates ‘in favour’ of aircraft passengers and imposes a quasi-strict liability on the air carrier. This means that it is not always necessary to prove that someone was at fault – the fact that an accident happened is often sufficient, provided it was an unexpected and unusual event i.e. severe turbulence.

Under Article 17 of the Montreal convention the air carrier is responsible for injuries caused to a passenger as a result of an unexpected and unusual event.

Therefore actionable accidents can include:

  • A collision on the runway or in the air
  • A collapsing seat back
  • Very severe turbulence
  • Injury caused by falling items from an overhead compartment
  • Spillage of food or drink by cabin crew
  • Food poisoning or injury caused by food.

This is regardless of whether:

  • The airline caused the injury or was responsible for the passenger’s accident
  • A passenger caused the accident onboard the plane
  • Circumstances where no one is to blame, e.g. when there is unexpected turbulence, which causes an injury to a passenger
  • The airline’s responsibility starts from the process of embarkation and finishes after the process of disembarkation.

Compensation claims

Under the Convention, compensation claims for personal injury and death whilst onboard an airplane can usually be brought in the country most favourable to the passenger.

This means that a compensation claim can be made:

  • In the country where the airline is based or flying to, or
  • The country where the injured passenger lives. 


Airlines are liable for an air accident, which is defined as an unusual and unexpected event or happening external to the passenger.

Airlines are not liable for an air accident, if the injury results from the passenger’s own internal reaction to the usual, normal and expected operation of the aircraft.

Examples include:

  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
  • Hearing loss caused by cabin pressure changes

Psychological damages

A passenger can claim compensation for an air injury and any psychological trauma suffered.

A passenger cannot claim compensation for their distress unless the passenger was also physicallyinjured.

Domestic Flights

The Montreal Convention does not apply to an internal, domestic UK flight.

A claim for personal injury can be brought against the airline using domestic UK law, which requires the claimant to show that the airline was negligent and at fault.

Time Limit

It is important to note that the time you have to make a claimis different from most other types of personal injury claims:

  • 2 years from when the accident or injury occurred during a holiday flight.

Package Travel Regulations 1992

Under Regulation 2(1) of the Package Travel Regulations 1992, tour operators have a ‘duty of care’ towards the health and safety of you, your family and anyone else in your party.

If the holiday was a package holiday protected by the Package Travel Regulations 1992, then a compensation claim for an injury caused during the flight can be pursued against the tour operator as they are responsible for their suppliers including the airlines.

Regulation 2(1) of the Package Travel Regulations 1992 states that a package provides for the pre-arranged combination of at least two of the following components:

  • Transport
  • Accommodation
  • Other tourist services not additional to transport or accommodation, and accounts for a significant proportion of the package. 

Making a claim – how we can help you

Building your case and making a claim requires the in-depth knowledge of a specialist personal injury solicitor.

Your Legal Friend has over 30 years’ experience in successfully managing compensation claims and has expert knowledge of all aspects of international personal injury law.

We specialise in helping all those who have suffered from a holiday accident through no fault of their own on an airplane and wish to claim compensation against a UK tour operator or air carrier. These claims can cover compensation not only for your injuries but also for spoiling your holiday if your injuries prevented you from taking part in any of your holiday activities.

We can also help you to claim back any additional expenses you have incurred as a result of your accident, such as:

  • Any medical expenses you had to meet whilst on holiday
  • Time taken off work on your return from holiday

Throughout your claim, Your Legal Friend will help you every step of the way.

  • No win, no fee – guaranteed
  • Specialist team of accident abroad solicitors
  • A wealth of knowledge and expertise
  • Advice, support and guidance throughout your claim
  • Over 30 years of experience in personal injury compensation

Talk to us today

For an informal, confidential chat with one of our specialist personal injury solicitors, call us now on 0808 301 7535 (calls free from landlines and mobiles). Or just complete the 'Start a new claim’ option on the right and we'll call you straight back.