When a plane lands – has it arrived?

 Adeline Noorderhaven, Manager EUclaim, UK takes a look ahead of the European Courts of Justice (ECJ) judgment on time of arrival.

What constitutes flight arrival time? That’s the question currently being asked at the European Courts of Justice (ECJ) by Germany’s budget airline Germanwings. Why does it matter?  It’s all about the minutes and of course the money.  If an airline is responsible for a delay and arrives 3 hours after its scheduled arrival time passengers are entitled to compensation up to 600 euros as stated in EC regulation 261/2004.  Although airlines battle hard not to pay out flight delay compensation to passengers it is the law and it must be upheld.  But what is not clear and remains a grey area which urgently needs definition - is when does a plane officially arrive?

The current arrival time options being discussed by the ECJ are:

  • the time that the aircraft lands on the runway (‘touchdown’);
  • the time that the aircraft reaches its parking position and the parking brakes are engaged or the chocks have been applied (‘in-block time’);
  • the time that the aircraft door is opened;
  • or a time defined by the parties in the context of party autonomy

Defining at what stage a plane has officially arrived is crucial.  On average the time from landing (touchdown) to taxing to the gate where the chocks are applied through to when the aircraft door is opened can be anything from 20mins upwards, every airport is different and these times therefore can vary dramatically. So the lack of cohesion over at which point a plane officially arrives, and the potential additional minutes journey time can make the difference of an airline having to pay out hefty compensation to passengers for delayed flights.  Whichever side you are on it all adds up to a potentially costly bill.   So, I look forward to hearing what the ECJ decides is the correct time to arrive. We believe the ECJ will clearly state that in-block time will be the time for all flights falling with the scope of the EC Regulation 261/2004

A judgment from the ECJ is expected on the 4th of September

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