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The rights of air passengers and the obligations of airlines are stipulated in EU regulation 261/2004. The European Parliament and the European Council have defined cases in which airlines are obliged to pay compensation or provide services to passengers.
Passengers are entitled to compensation whenever time irregularities are caused by circumstances that are the responsibility of the airline. If, on the other hand, there are so-called “extraordinary circumstances” outside of the airline’s control, the obligations of the airline are restricted.
The definition of exceptional circumstances in EU Regulation 261/2004 is, however, generalized, and leaves room for interpretation.
In a landmark judgement in 2015, The European Court of Justice determined that avoidable technical problems cannot be defined as extraordinary circumstances (AZ C-257/14). What is ultimately considered an extraordinary circumstance is dependent on the jurisprudence of the respective country.
Your options and rights to get compensation would depend on if the circumstances/reasons given by the airline for the delay would classify as an extraordinary circumstances beyound the control of the airline.
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No, COVID 19 can not be used as exceptional circumstances by the airlines-
AIR PASSENGER RIGHTS (REGULATION (EC) NO 261/2004)
3.2. Right to reimbursement or re-routing
In the case of a flight cancellation by the airlines (no matter what the cause is), Article 5 obliges the operating air carrier to offer the passengers the choice among:
a) reimbursement (refund);
b) re-routing at the earliest opportunity, or
c) re-routing at a later date at the passenger's convenience.
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