Denied boarding or fine?


Ongoing travel restrictions due to the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic have begun to be a subject of litigation in Germany.

At German airports, passengers are being left behind if they cannot show the required health documents for travel.(1) While airlines face a significant fine if they transport passengers without the necessary travel documents,(2) they may have to pay compensation for denied boarding if they decide incorrectly on the travel documents presented.(3) The entry requirements are continuously changing, and often neither passenger nor carrier knows what is actually needed.

While the various covid-19 entry regulations, which are mostly based on infection protection laws, are now gradually being lifted,(4) the wave of corresponding lawsuits is delayed and will likely hit the German courts later on in 2022.

Denied boarding or fine?

At the end of 2021, airlines were facing the first liability issues arising directly out of the covid-19 pandemic under article 4 of EU Regulation No. 261/2004 in the German courts. The cases result from denied boarding due to missing mandatory travel documents. The claimants argue variously that the documents:

  • had been read incorrectly;
  • had not been necessary; or
  • should have been accepted.

German passengers and airlines have faced numerous national entry regulations that have been adopted since the outbreak of the pandemic.(5) Transporting a passenger from a third country to the European Union – maybe even with a connection – has become a more bureaucratic issue than it has been in the past. As well as the necessary check of the mandatory health documents (eg, a vaccine certificate or a test result), so-called "passenger locator forms" are obligatory for the country of origin and sometimes even for the country of transit. The European Union's efforts to reach a uniform regulation in this area took more than a year – the first EU-wide entry forms could finally be presented at the beginning of 2022.(6)

Not only are all national regulations different, they have been changing on almost a weekly basis to take into account the dynamic developments. Not only was it hard for German passengers to find out what was required for air transport, German airlines also had to radically adjust their controls, and are still doing so on daily basis. Airlines, having had to transform into consultant agencies on travel requirements for the many passengers who need assistance, are – at the same time – the authority controlling the compliance of their customers with the respective national obligations.

Moreover, airlines are heavily fined if border control forces detect that the presented documents fail to comply with the respective regulations upon entering the country. Many misunderstandings have resulted from the dynamic and frequent changes, leading to situations where German passengers are being:

  • denied boarding, despite being in possession of the right documents; or
  • transported, despite not having correct documents.

When in doubt, German airlines are finding themselves caught between transporting a passenger, and risking a fine, or not allowing the passenger to board, perhaps resulting in a claim for compensation. It is a hard choice to make.

The first German court cases regarding denied boarding are awaiting a judge's decision. The local court of Düsseldorf will soon have to decide whether a doctor's confirmation in a foreign language is sufficient as a proof of recovery to a Spanish-speaking counter employee in South America. The court must also consider whether the case must be seen from this ex ante point of view, or, if the airline has to take into account a fine, whether a judge in a litigation process might evaluate the situation in a different manner to the authority in charge.(7)


The German courts will have to decide whether to apply a strict implementation of the national rules or an ex ante evaluation, or whether they can apply discretion. The first results in the German courts – scheduled for Summer 2022 – are highly anticipated.

For further information on this topic please contact Sarah Joanna Haas at Arnecke Sibeth Dabelstein by telephone (+49 403 177 9756) or email ([email protected]). The Arnecke Sibeth Dabelstein website can be accessed at


(1) See, for example, "Lufthansa refuses to fly because of the alleged lack of a corona test".

(2) In Germany, up to €25,000 under section 73(1) of the Law on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases in Humans and section 13 of the Ordinance on protection against entry-related risks of infection in relation to the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

(3) As per article 4 of EU Regulation No. 261/2004.

(4) Germany's most recent development in this regard took place on 3 March 2022. Further information can be found here.

(5) The German government lists all requirements and updates for travel destinations here.

(6) For more information, see here.

(7) AG Düsseldorf, Reference No. 31 C 3291/21 (74).