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Under European law airlines have to refund the cost of a cancelled flight within 7 days

(Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 setting out common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights)

https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=celex:32004R0261

If they do not comply with the law are they in breach of contract and liable for any damages ?

  • You are aware that the rule doesn’t apply in “extraordinary circumstances” like the last 6 months? – Dale M Sep 15 at 20:37
  • Is the entirety of the "COVID-19 epidemic" considered extraordinary circumstances, with regards to the stated regulation? After all, some 6-7 months in, airlines are now operating within the full knowledge of how countries are treating their individual reaction to the epidemic. In other words, can the airlines continue to avoid their responsibilities under the EC regulation forever, because "COVID"...? – CGCampbell Sep 25 at 13:32
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If they do not comply with the law are they in breach of contract and liable for any damages?

Since this is a statutory right, I doubt it's included in the contract of carriage between you and the airline. On that basis, if it's not a contractual term, they haven't breached the contract itself but they have deprived you of your statutory right.

Assuming you can prove some damage, you could sue them for doing so and they might end up being liable, but I suspect most courts would simply order them to pay the owed refund, your costs, and perhaps a nominal sum for the inconvenience rather than any big pay out.

Normally the airline regulator in your country is responsible for enforcing compliance with this law, so your first port of call would usually be to contact them and complain rather than proceeding straight to court.

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  • I think that it is reasonable to consider every contract to incorporate relevant statutory requirements. If I order soup and there's a cockroach in it, "We didn't explicitly promise you no cockroaches" isn't much a defense. – Acccumulation Oct 15 at 18:49
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Are airlines in breach of contract by not complying with the law?

The violation of laws is actionable on its own, regardless of it occurring in a context of a contract. And non-compliance with some law is not necessarily material breach of contract, or does not necessarily frustrate the purpose of that contract.

It is unclear what exactly you mean by "not comply[ing] with the law" here (for instance, did the airline fail to timely reimburse? did it trick the customer into settling for a lower amount?). Remedies for airline's cancellation of a flight are provided in articles 7 and 8 in the Regulation to which you refer. However, given the constraint in article 5, item 3, the customer should be prepared to refute the airline's attempt to take advantage of that constraint.

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