The Court of Justice of the European Union has issued its
judgement on the Case C-452/13 - Germanwings GmbH. vs Ronny
Henningon September 4th, 2014.The case
originated from a request for a preliminary ruling regarding the
interpretation of the concept of 'actual arrival
time' in proceedings between the air carrier Germanwings
GmbH. ('Germanwings') and the passenger Mr Henning before
the Austrian courts.
The dispute in the main proceedings concerned the carrier's
refusal to compensate Mr Henning for the alleged delay with which
the aircraft arrived at Cologne/Bonn airport (Germany). Mr Henning
complained that his flight took off with a delay of three hours and
ten minutes and touched down on the tarmac of the runway at
Cologne/Bonn airport with a delay of two hours and fifty-eight
minutes. Once the parking position was reached, the doors of the
aircraft opened three hours and three minutes later than the
scheduled arrival time.
The aggrieved passenger claimed that the final destination was
reached with a delay of more than three hours in relation to the
scheduled arrival time and that he could consequently claim a
compensation of € 250 pursuant to Articles 5, 6 and 7 of
Regulation No261/2004. On the contrary, Germanwings took the view
that the actual arrival time was the time at which the plane landed
on the runway of the Cologne/Bonn airport, with the result that the
delay in relation to the scheduled arrival time was just two hours
and fifty-eight minutes. A long delay that entitles to compensation
is equal to or in excess of three hours, so compensation was not
Firstly, the Court observes that the concept of 'actual
arrival time' may not be defined on a contractual basis
but must be interpreted in an independently and uniformly. In that
regard, the Court points out 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. Although such inconveniences must be regarded as
unavoidable as long as a flight does not exceed the scheduled
duration, the same is not true if there is a delay, in view, inter
alia, the fact that the passengers cannot use the 'lost
time' to achieve the objectives which led them to
choose". It follows that the concept of 'actual
arrival time' must be understood as the time at which such
a situation of constraint comes to an end.
It is indeed true that passengers' situation on a flight
does not change substantially when the aircraft touches down on the
runway or when the aircraft reaches its parking position, since
they must remained seated and deprived of any possibility to
communicate with the external world. It is only when the air
carrier gives the order to open the doors and authorizes passengers
to leave the aircraft that they cease to be subject to those
constraints and may resume their normal activities.
Therefore, in the light of the foregoing considerations, the
Court ruled that the concept of 'arrival time',
which is used to determine the length of the delay to which
passengers on a flight have been subjected, refers to the time at
which at least one of the doors of the aircraft is opened. This is
based on the assumption that,only from that moment onwards,
passengers are permitted to leave the aircraft.
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