Most of us, at one time or other, have probably flown on an aeroplane – whether for business of for pleasure, and most of us have also probably made an assumption about flight times – both departure and arrival. But we’ve probably not thought about it too much if the flight goes ok. Today the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) legally defined what arrival time is (and by association departure time).
The case, referred to the CJEU by an Austrian Court, arose from a compensation claim made by a passenger on a Germanwings flight from Salzburg to Cologne/Bonn. Although the aircraft in question took off with a delay of three hours and 10 minutes, the aircraft touched down on the tarmac of the runway at Cologne/Bonn airport with a delay of two hours and 58 minutes. When the aircraft reached its parking position, the delay was three hours and three minutes. The doors were opened shortly afterwards. Germanwings only paid compensation for delay of over three hours. The passenger argued this was the case, Germanwings argued the actual arrival time of flights is the time at which the plane touches down on the tarmac.
The Court backed the position adopted by the passenger in the case. It stated that during the flight passengers are in control of the air carrier and their activities are restricted during that time. As such it makes sense that the concept of ‘actual arrival time’ must be understood as the time at which such a situation of constraint comes to an end. As frequent flyers will know, airlines instruct you to remain seated until the plane comes to standstill at the arrival gate. But even then, stated the court “the passengers continue to be subject, in the enclosed space in which they are sitting, to various constraints. It is only when the passengers are permitted to leave the aircraft and the order is given to that effect to open the doors of the aircraft that the passengers cease to be subject to those constraints and may in principle resume their normal activities.”
The Court concludes that the ‘arrival time’, which is used to determine the length of the delay to which passengers on a flight have been subject, corresponds to the time at which at least one of the doors of the aircraft is opened, the assumption being that, at that moment, the passengers are permitted to leave the aircraft, and the doors have been opened.
So there you have it. Your flight has not arrived until you have landed, reached your arrival gate, and the door(s) of the plane have been opened. One to bear in mind next time your flight is delayed.
Case C-452/13 Germanwings GmbH v Ronny Henning