A recent Court of Justice of European Union decision held that the concept of ‘arrival time’, in the context of a delayed flight, refers to the time at which at least one of the doors of the aircraft is opened.

Ronny Henning was a passenger on a Germanwings flight from Salzburg (Austria) to Cologne/Bonn, scheduled to arrive at Cologne/Bonn airport at 14.40. The aircraft was delayed in taking off from Salzburg and landed on the runway of Cologne/Bonn airport at 17.38, reaching its parking position at 17.43 - three hours and three minutes after the scheduled arrival time. The doors of the aircraft were opened shortly afterwards.

Mr Henning argued before an Austrian court that, under an EC Regulation, he was entitled to claim compensation of €250 as his flight was delayed for over three hours. Mr Henning based his argument on the fact that the doors of the aircraft were opened over three hours after the scheduled arrival time.

The court agreed with Mr Henning and held that the actual arrival time to be taken into account under the EC Regulation was the time at which the first door of the aircraft was opened to enable the passengers to leave. The Court thereby ordered Germanwings to pay compensation of €250 to Mr Henning. Germanwings appealed the decision.

Germanwings submitted that the actual arrival time was the time at which the plane landed at Cologne/Bonn airport - just two hours and 58 minutes late. However, the Court of Justice looked at the constraints imposed on air passengers and held that such constraints come to an end only when the flight doors are opened and the passengers can leave the aircraft.

Time will tell whether the decision will result in an increase in compensation claims from passengers. An upsurge in compensation claims could give rise to raised air fares, resulting from situations where the aircraft is not at fault and must seek redress from airports, handlers or other third parties responsible for the delay.