CJEU: Arrival is, when the doors are open

A court in Salzburg (Austria) asked the CJEU to define the term “arrival time” in the context of air travel. The decision: You have arrived, when the doors open and passengers can leave the airplane.


The EU Regulation on Air Passenger Rights rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding, cancellation or long delay of flights. Regarding to the so called Sturgeon-verdict of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) of 2008, a flight must be delayed for at least three hours for passengers to claim compensatory payment.
But there is one exception regarding cancellation and delay: Airlines do not have to make compensatory payments if extraordinary circumstances caused the problems.


Trial at the Salzburger Landesgericht

The following case happened in Salzburg: A flight of the airline Germanwings from Salzburg to Köln/Bonn landed with a delay of 2:58 hours on the runway of the German airport. After 3:03 hours, parking position was reached. Shortly afterwards the doors were opened. A passenger requested compensatory payment. Germanwings refused due to its understanding that the plane arrived with only 2:58 hours delay.


The Salzburger Landesgericht asked the CJEU to define the term “arrival time” as it is mentioned in the Regulation. Beforehand it was interpreted in various ways: when the plane lands on the runway (“touchdown”), when it reaches the parking position and the brakes are engaged or when the doors open.


Decision of the CJEU

The CJEU concluded that "arrival time" means that at least one of the doors is opened and passengers are enabled to leave the plane. The court therefore decided in favor of the European consumers.


In justifying its ruling, the CJEU stated that:


“During a flight, passengers remain confined in an enclosed space, under the instructions and control of the air carrier, in which, for technical and safety reasons, their possibilities of communicating with the outside world are considerably restricted. In such circumstances, passengers are unable to carry on, without interruption, their personal, domestic, social or business activities. It is only once the flight has ended that they are able to resume their normal activities.”


The final decision, if the passenger of the delayed Germanwings flight gets a compensatory payment, has to be made by the Salzburger Landesgericht. If Germanwings doesn’t claim extraordinary circumstances, it is in any case obliged to pay according to the CJEU decision.


The CJEU ruling cares for a standardized usage of the term “arrival time” throughout the EU and therefore more clarity regarding compensation for air passengers in the event of delayed flights.


The European Consumer Centre Austria provides advice free of charge regarding cross-boarder consumer problems within the EU. If you face difficulties due to air travel, please feel free to contact us.

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