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Late Flight Compensation: How Europe’s Highest Court Is Handling Flight Delays

Flight delays are a top annoyance for any passenger who has flown before. With more flights being scheduled everyday, there seems to be a rise in the number of delays occurring.  According to the European Union’s highest court, European Court of Justice,  a flight is considered “arrived” at its destination only after at least one of its doors is open. On European flights, passengers are entitled to 250 Euros (about $323 US dollars) in compensation if their flight is delayed three or more hours.

It seems like a great way to make airlines be on time more often, and make passengers more satisfied. However, there have been issues arising with this new ruling.Ronny Henning was flying from Austria to Germany on the airline Germanwings in May 2012. After taking off from Salzburg, the plane landed in the Cologne/Bonn airport about 2 hours and 58 minutes after its scheduled arrival, and the doors of the plane opened 3 hours and 3 minutes after it had taken off.  Mr. Henning went to collect his compensation, but found himself in court with Germanwings.  The airline argued they had made it to Cologne/Bonn with a delay of less than 3 hours. They had calculated the time when the plane had touched down on the tarmac.The Austrian didn’t know when to count the flight’s actual arrival. When they asked the European Court of Justice, they answered with this:“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, of the fact that the passengers cannot use the ‘lost time’ to achieve the objectives which led them to choose precisely that flight. 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.”With this being said, “lost time” cannot  be ended once the plane has touched down, but when the doors are opened. Even though the plane has landed, passengers are not allowed to use their communication devices or leave their seats until indicated by the airline staff, and doors are open.The Association of European Airlines is not happy about this court ruling because it makes them liable for everything that can go wrong with a flight. They say this puts airlines at risk of having to pay for delays they had no control over, such as weather hazards. Sometimes, airplane doors can’t be opened due to the ground handler or bridge operator being late.With this said, airlines are pushing to have the ruling reviewed again to add more clarity and less ambiguity that is stated in order to be fair to both the passengers and the airlines.What do you think about this ruling? Do you think there should be a similar rule for US airlines? If so, how could it help passengers without harming airlines?

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