If you’ve seen Peter on the Today show or heard his radio show, you’ve probably heard him mention something called Rule 240.
With 27 million Americans expected to travel this Thanksgiving holiday season, you may find yourself in a situation when this little tip can help save the day. Or, for that matter ANY day.
Rule 240 dates back to the days when the old Civil Aeronautics Board controlled and regulated the airlines. And then, after deregulation kicked in (in 1978) the rule actually survived the transition to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
But the airlines don’t voluntarily disclose this rule to passengers—and for the airlines, their reasoning is understandable—Rule 240 often costs them money, and a lot of it, if your plane is delayed or canceled.
In general, here’s what 240 says: In the event of any flight irregularity (delay, cancellation, mechanical failure) for any reason whatsoever except weather, the airline must endorse your ticket over to the next available flight. Not just THEIR next available flight, which may not leave until next Thursday, but THE next available flight.
The only airline exceptions to the rule: airlines that don’t have existing “interline” agreements with other carriers. Jet Blue, Southwest and a few other low cost carriers are not governed by 240. But American, United, Delta, Northwest, Continental, Alaska, and U.S. Air do have to abide by 240.
Rule 240 applies only in the United States and not to any foreign carriers.
Each airline may claim that its contract of carriage interprets 240 differently, and some may say that there are new versions of the rule (some call it rule 120.20), but the bottom line is that if you’re delayed or canceled—and weather is not a factor—you need to find the nearest airline supervisor and nicely, but firmly, say “240 me.”
Of course, if you’re on the last scheduled flight of the day by any airline, you won’t be going anywhere. And some airlines may claim the weather excuse even if there’s no weather issue at your departing airport. Still, insist that the airline makes its case if it tries to invoke the weather excuse.
You can even enact a preemptive 240 before you arrive at the airport. Before you leave home, check your flight status (we use flightstats.com or flightarrivals.com). Look up not just your scheduled flight but also the aircraft number. If your plane is still in Los Angeles and you’re supposed to be flying out of New York in three hours, there’s a good shot that your flight will be delayed, or even canceled. That chance increases exponentially if you’re flying from an airport where the airline is not based and thus has no access to an extra airplane.
In any case, it pays to know how each airline approaches rule 240, so you know in advance what excuses they may try to employ.
Here are some examples of what some airlines’ contracts of carriage have to say:
“When cancellations and major delays are experienced, you will be rerouted on our next flight with available seats. If the delay or cancellation was caused by events within our control and we do not get you to your final destination on the expected arrival day, we will provide reasonable overnight accommodations, subject to availability.
In extreme circumstances, it is possible that a flight will cancel while on the ground in the city to which it was diverted. When this happens you will be rerouted on the next American Airlines or American Eagle flight with available seats, or in some circumstances on another airline or some other alternative means of transportation. If we are unable to reroute you, reasonable overnight accommodations will be provided by American Airlines or American Eagle, subject to availability.
American Airlines and American Eagle will provide amenities for delayed passengers, necessary to maintain the safety and/or welfare of certain passengers such as customers with disabilities, unaccompanied children, the elderly or others to whom such amenities will be furnished consistent with special needs and/or circumstances.”
Click Here for United’s Contract of Carriage.
“When a passenger will be delayed because of a schedule irregularity involving a UA flight which, for the purposes of this Rule, for tickets issued on/after Sept. 1, 1992, flight delays exceeding 2 hrs., or UA cancels the passenger’s reservation pursuant to paragraphs a) or d), rule 135 (cancellation of reservations) except for cancellations of reservations due to a work stoppage:
A) UA will transport the passenger without stopover on its next flight on which space is available in the same class of service as the passenger’s original outbound flight at no additional cost to the passenger.
B) if UA is unable to provide onward transportation acceptable to the passenger, UA, with concurrence of the passenger … will arrange for the transportation on another carrier or combination of carriers with whom UA has agreements for such transportation. The passenger will be transported without stopover on its (their) next flight(s), in the same class of service as the passenger’s original outbound flight at no additional cost to the passenger.”
“When, as a result of factors within Delta’s control, you miss a connection due to flight delays, your flight is cancelled, or a substitution of equipment results in a change in the class of service that you purchased or prevents us from transporting you, Delta will provide you with the following:
Delta will transport you to your destination on our next flight on which seats are available in the class of service you originally purchased. At our sole discretion, we may arrange for your travel on another carrier or via ground transportation. If acceptable to you, we will transport you in a lower class of service, in which case you may be entitled to a partial refund as set forth below. If space on the next available flight is available only in a higher class of service than you purchased, we will transport you on the flight, although we reserve the right to upgrade other passengers on the flight according to our upgrade priority policy to make space for you in the class of service you originally purchased.”
“When a ticketed customer holding confirmed reservations on a flight will be delayed because of a schedule irregularity (whether a missed connection, flight cancellation, omission of a scheduled stop, substitution of equipment or a different class of service or schedule change), US Airways will rebook the customer on its next available flight to the customer’s ticketed destination without additional charge. If US Airways is unable to provide onward transportation, US Airways may attempt to rebook the customer on the next available flight of another airline with which US Airways has an agreement allowing the acceptance of each other’s tickets.
If US Airways is not able to reroute customers on its flights or other airlines’ flights, US Airways may offer the customer ground transportation to the destination. If the customer does not accept the ground transportation offered, US Airways will refund the value of the remaining flight coupons to the stopover or destination.”
Contract of Carriage for Airlines without interline agreements:
Interested in learning more about the rights of airline passengers? Check out this interview with Kate Hanni, head of the Coalition for Airline Passengers Bill of Rights.
There are other solutions to many of the air travel industry’s problems. Read about some of Peter’s suggestions in JFK Air Traffic Nightmares.