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Background story: We booked an Emirates Flight earlier in the year, Emirates made substantial changes to the itinerary and I was trying to figure out whether we can get our money back. Emirates provided the Fare Conditions at Booking, so I took a look.

Turns out the fare conditions for this ticket has 751 pages (seven hundred and fifty one) most of which is dense legal language and/or hard to decipher flight jargon with many circular references. It's basically unreadable for any human being.

Question:

  1. Is it legal for an airline to create terms or conditions that are complex beyond any reasonable limit?
  2. Is there a general requirement for reasonability for contracts of that sort? Is there a legal mechanism that prevents companies from screwing over customers by simply generating terms that are so complex that they become unreadable?
  3. As a customer what recourse do I have other than just not doing business companies that use these practices (which regrettably are many)

If location is relevant: Ticket was booked from the US, Emirates is headquartered in the UAE, travel was to various locations in Southeast Asia and the middle east.

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There is a tension in the law between completeness and explicitness, versus simplicity. This article advocates giving a greater role to considerations of complexity in contract law. But at present, "complexity" is not per se a significant consideration in interpreting contracts, instead, ambiguity has to take its place. Since we can't inspect the contract, it's hard to say whether there is anything legally defective in your contract.

Length is nor an intrinsic bar to validity of consumer contracts. The law assumes that you understand the language used in the contract (e.g. English, or Arabic), that you read the contract and comprehended what it requires of the parties. The law also assumes that you can avail yourself of legal counsel, who will advise you how to understand a troublesome clause. There may be special statutory exceptions stemming from consumer protection law, and there is always the possibility that a contract will be invalidated as "unconscionable", but US courts have not deemed that long contracts are unconscionable.

This does not mean that the airline's interpretation of the contract is correct: that would be a matter for the courts to decide. The chances are non-trivial that there is an ambiguity, which then would be interpreted in your favor and not theirs. But again, it just depends on what the contract says.

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    "that you read the contract and comprehended what it requires of the parties" I think that's my question. IMO the contract is not comprehensible. I doubt that even a lawyer or a court could make sense of it because if the almost unlimited implicit cross referencing. What it says on page 415 is dependent on what it says in page 217, 314 & 112, which in turn depend on page 312, 97, 84, 702, and so and so on.
    – Hilmar
    Jun 18 at 17:02
  • Ambiguities are not necessarily read against the drafter. See law.stackexchange.com/q/58103/344. It’s extremely likely that a 751 page contract has a no contra proferentum clause.
    – Dale M
    Jun 18 at 21:14

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