Paradis v. Ghana Airways Limited, 348 F. Supp. 2d 106 (S.D.N.Y. 2004)


Paradis coordinated a trip to Sierra Leone for his law school student organization, Universal Jurisdiction, which provides volunteer legal services in developing countries. (Am.Compl. ¶¶ 8, 9). On April 29, 2004, Paradis purchased roundtrip tickets for himself and four other members of Universal Jurisdiction to travel on Ghana Airways between New York City and Freetown, Sierra Leone, departing from New York on May 29, 2004 and returning from Sierra Leone three weeks later, on June 18, 2004. (Am.Compl. ¶ 11). The group’s itinerary between New York and Freetown included a connection in Accra, Ghana during both the departing and the returning trips. (Am.Compl. ¶¶ 11-12).

When in Sierra Leone, Paradis and his companions confirmed their return flight two days before their scheduled departure. (Am.Compl. ¶ 18). They went to the airport on Friday, June 18, arriving at around 12:00 p.m. for their 3:00 p.m. flight to Accra. (Am.Compl. ¶¶ 12, 19). At approximately 4:15 p.m. — an hour and fifteen minutes after the scheduled departure time — an announcement was made that the flight had been cancelled. (Am.Compl. ¶¶ 12, 25). Ghana Airways had no ticket desks at the airport, but its staff informed Paradis there were no other flights leaving that day and that he should make arrangements with the Ghana Airways office in Freetown the next business day. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 20, 27).

The group left the airport and arrived back in Freetown at around 5:00 p.m. (Am. Compl. ¶ 28). Because members of the group were anxious to return to the United States for various prior commitments, including summer employment, a bar examination review course and mandatory meetings for organizations (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 48-51), Paradis made a reservation with another air carrier, Astreaus Airways, for seats on a flight that would leave Sierra Leone at 10:30 that same night, Friday June 18, and fly to Gatwick Airport in England. (Am.Compl. ¶ 31). Paradis searched the internet for flights from Gatwick to New York and learned that the group would most likely be able to acquire tickets for that leg upon arrival at Gatwick. (Am.Compl. ¶¶ 31-32, 56-57).

Paradis then called the Ghana Airways office in New York and inquired about later Ghana Airways flights out of Sierra Leone. (Am.Compl. ¶ 30). The agent in New York claimed to be unaware of the cancellation of Paradis’ flight. (Am. Compl. ¶ 30). Paradis “was given no assurances of subsequent flight availability and was told to take up the matter with the GHANA AIRWAYS office in Freetown, Sierra Leone, which at [that] hour on a Friday was closed.” (Am. Compl. at ¶ 30). Paradis’ conversation with the agent then shifted to how much Ghana Airways would pay to compensate the group for the cost of securing transportation on other carriers. (Am.Compl. ¶ 32). The agent allegedly refused to offer anything more than $559 per ticket, one-half the original ticket price and substantially less than the approximately $1,500 per person total that Paradis projected it would cost to purchase tickets for the Astreaus Airways flight to Gatwick and another flight from Gatwick to New York. (Am.Compl. ¶¶ 32, 34). In the context of that discussion about reimbursement for alternative flight arrangements, the agent allegedly told Paradis that “finding a way back to New York was `your problem.'” (Am.Compl. ¶ 42).

Paradis and his companions feared being stranded if they spent their remaining cash on accommodations while waiting for Ghana Airways’ next flight, scheduled for the following Friday, to leave, especially because they did not have guaranteed seats. (Am.Compl. ¶ 47). Consequently, they purchased the tickets Paradis had reserved on Astreaus Airways and left Sierra Leone later that same night, June 18. (Am.Compl. ¶¶ 53, 55). Upon his return to the United States, Paradis exerted extensive, albeit unsuccessful, efforts to negotiate a satisfactory settlement with Ghana Airways for the out-of-pocket losses the group suffered as a result of the cancelled flight. (Am.Compl. ¶¶ 59-98).

Within six weeks of his arrival back in the New York, Paradis brought suit in New York Supreme Court against Ghana Airways for breach of contract pursuant to New York law and for damages occasioned by delay pursuant to the Warsaw Convention.


No issues drafted yet for this case.


The circumstances of Wolgel are readily distinguishable from those that Paradis faced in Sierra Leone. The Wolgels were deprived of all benefit of their bargain. The airline denied them boarding on the initial leg of their round-trip itinerary and had provided no compensation even five years later when the plaintiffs brought suit. See Wolgel, 821 F.2d at 443. Paradis, who flew the initial leg of his round-trip itinerary, has offered no factual allegations that Ghana Airways failed to offer substitute transportation. Indeed, the staff at the airport and the agent in New York both instructed him to make arrangements with the Ghana Airways office in Freetown the following business day. Paradis and his companions were so keen to leave Sierra Leone that they did not give the airline a reasonable opportunity to perform.

Other courts have refused to allow recovery for breach of contract when plaintiffs responded to delays as Paradis did, by booking alternative flights. See, e.g., Minhas v. Biman Bangladesh Airlines, No 97 Civ. 4920, 1999 WL 447445 (S.D.N.Y. June 30, 1999); Ratnaswamy v. Air Afrique, No. 95 C 7670, 1998 WL 111652 (N.D.Ill. March 3, 1998); Alam v. Pakistan Int’l Airlines Corp., 92 Civ. 4356, 1995 WL 17201349, 1995 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11919 (S.D.N.Y. July 27, 1995); Malik v. Butta, 92 Civ. 8703, 1993 WL 410168, 1993 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1442 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 14, 1993).

In Ratnaswamy v. Air Afrique, No. 95 C 7670, 1998 WL 111652, at *2-3 (N.D.Ill. March 3, 1998), for example, a husband and wife sued, inter alia, for breach of contract when, despite having reconfirmed their tickets, they were denied boarding on a return flight from Senegal to New York City. Id. at *1-2. The defendant airline, Air Afrique, refused to compensate plaintiffs by providing them tickets for a flight on another carrier. Id. at *2. The airline instructed the plaintiffs to wait three days for the next Air Afrique flight, seats on which were not guaranteed; instead of complying, the plaintiffs bought more expensive tickets to return on an earlier flight operated by a different airline. Id. at *2. The Ratnaswamy court held that because the plaintiffs had already flown six out of seven Air Afrique segments of their planned itinerary, the suit was actually “for damages they allegedly sustained as a result of their delay in leaving Africa.” Id. at *4. Distinguishing its own Circuit’s opinion in Wolgel, the Ratnaswamy court held that the plaintiffs’ state law claims were “within the purview of the convention,” which provided the “exclusive remedy” for delay, and were accordingly preempted. Id. (citation omitted).

Similarly, in Minhas v. Biman Bangladesh Airlines, No. 97 Civ. 4920, 1999 WL 447445, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. June 30, 1999), Judge Barbara S. Jones rejected the state law claims of Minhas, who had been bumped off of a return flight from New Delhi to New York in March of 1997. The plaintiff remained in India for 45 extra days after that, trying unsuccessfully to get a return flight from the defendant airline. Id. Eventually, when Minhas was informed in late April that no flight would be available to New York until some time in July, her spouse bought her a ticket on another airline. Id. As a result of the delay and her concomitant inability to access study materials, Minhas claimed that she was unable to sit for the California bar examination in July as she had planned. Id. Although Minhas did not specify whether she brought her claims in contract or tort, Judge Jones held broadly that “[c]laims arising from so-called `bumping’ are within the scope of Article 19 of the Convention,” and granted the airline’s motion for partial summary judgment. Id. at *2.

Just as the plaintiffs in Minhas and Ratnaswamy, Paradis did not afford the airline an opportunity to perform its remaining obligations pursuant to the contract. The several extra hours Paradis spent in Sierra Leone did not expose Ghana Airways to liability for contractual non-performance. Moreover, there was no indication that Ghana Airways intended to repudiate its contractual obligations. The Conventions apply and therefore preempt Paradis’ state law breach of contract claim.

Useful for

Interpretation: Cases on WC29 an aid to MC99

No remedy when none available under the Convention

No remedy where carrier allowed no opportunity to rectify delay

Treaty provisions considered

Article 24 WC29

Article 29 MC99

Montreal Convention 1999

Warsaw Convention 1929

Legislation considered

None identified.

Key subjects or concepts

Exclusivity/ Preemption/