The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) delivered today its judgment on the case C-452/13 Germanwings, in which it defines the notion of ‘arrival time’ in the framework of Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 on passenger rights as 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’.
The case concerned compensation claims of a passenger against an airline due to long delay. According to settled CJEU case-law see e.g. judgment on the joined cases C-581/10 and C-629/10 Sturgeon II), if the aircraft arrives at the final destination with a delay of more than three hours, then passengers are entitled to compensation for the time lost and the inconvenience suffered. The aircraft touched down on the airport runway 2 hours and 58 minutes after the scheduled time of arrival, but doors opened for disembarkation 5 minutes thereafter.
The German Court that referred the question to the CJEU had identified four possible definitions of the “arrival time” and asked which one was correct. This could be the time: (a) at which the aircraft touches down on the runway of the destination airport; (b) at which the aircraft reaches its parking position and the parking brakes are engaged or the chocks have been applied; (c) at which the aircraft door is opened or (d) which is defined through party agreement.
The CJEU took into account the context and the purpose of Regulation (EC) No 261/2004, which is to compensate passengers for the inconveniences they suffered because of the delay. The Court noted that during a flight passengers remain confined in an enclosed space, under the instructions and control of the air carrier, in which their possibilities of communicating with the outside world are considerably restricted. In such circumstances, passengers are unable to carry on uninterrupted their usual activities. Such activities can be resumed, only when the passengers are permitted to leave the aircraft, i.e. when at least one aircraft door has been opened to this end. Therefore, the ‘arrival time’ corresponds to such time.
It has also to be noted that the CJEU rejected the arguments of the aviation industry that the ‘arrival time’ is the time at which an aircraft reaches its parking position, which were based on a number of regulations and documents. The Court held that these pursue objectives relating to air navigation rules and in particular to slot allocation, which are different from those of Regulation No 261/2004.