airport waiting area Rule 240: Dead, mythical, or alive and well?

For U.S. travelers, the old pre-deregulation Rule 240 was a godsend, a way to practically ensure that you’d get to your destination if your booked flight was delayed for reasons other than weather. Invoke rule 240, and the airline would put you on the next flight to your destination — even if that flight was on the competition!

It’s true. Airlines were once required to simply sign over tickets to another carrier if their flights were delayed or canceled, as long as weather wasn’t the cause. Customers won. (And I could imagine that this would encourage tip-top maintenance, too.)

With the demise of regulation, Rule 240 was no longer a standard requirement for airline contracts. Each airline could tinker with their contracts of carriage here and there, and they did. Some kept the old rule 240 in the contract, and they even called it “rule 240.” But the global requirement that there be such a rule was gone.

Every so often, the subject of rule 240 comes up again in the travel media. This time, eminences grises Peter Greenberg and Joe Brancatelli posted opposing views on the existential question of whether or not Rule 240 exists, with Chris Elliott playing referee. Read ‘em all.

The bottom line, to me, is this: There is no true Rule 240 anymore. Some airlines have it, some don’t. And it’s not a rule, as much as it is a practice, with a bit of discretion and leeway for the gate agent. But it’s worth asking for, in a pinch. It can’t hurt to try.

Above all, the key is that Rule 240 is not universal, neither in name, nor in scope. Airlines and passengers are supposed to abide by the terms of the contract of carriage, which differs by airline. And these contracts change from time to time, much to travelers’ chagrin. You don’t like that? Tough luck. It’s not like you can cancel your ticket without penalties, even if the airline changes its contract. (Who writes these things? Must be a sweet gig.)

But just because Rule 240 isn’t a blanket rule across all carriers doesn’t mean you can’t try invoking it, or its contractual descendant. If you’re delayed, ask to be rescheduled on another flight. But remember, if the delay is due to weather, you’re out of luck. And guess what airlines will try to blame the delays on?

As I’ve argued before, always carry a copy of your airline’s contract. I usually lug a laptop with me, so I download the contract before I leave. If there’s a delay, you’ve got the documentation to scroll through.

Personally, I’ve never actually invoked Rule 240, or any of its variants, to fly on another airline at no further cost. (Though a kind Delta agent once put me on an American Airlines flight from Seattle to Chicago, when I was traveling on a “free” SkyMiles ticket from Anchorage that wasn’t routed anywhere near Seattle… It’s a long story. In retrospect, she probably 240′ed me.) I’ve been rebooked many times on alternate flights on the airline that operated my original ticket, but that, to me, isn’t really Rule 240. But I know people who have, to some success. But things change, and I wouldn’t bet on it working out for you if you tried “invoking” it today.

But how about you? Have you used it? Have you been denied?

Hit the poll!

rule 240 poll results Rule 240: Dead, mythical, or alive and well?

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Categorized in: airlines, regulation

25 Responses to “Rule 240: Dead, mythical, or alive and well?”

  1. Brian Says:

    I have been 240′d once – I was on an odd flight on UA from EWR to YYZ via IAD. Checked in, went to the RCC. The matron had one look at my ticket, said “you will never make it to IAD to make your connection – and I can’t put you on AC as they have already cancelled their flight.”

    A phone call later, she had me on a CO flight n/s to YYZ. Other than getting the SSSS treatment, I was good to go.

    Never asked, it just happened.

    The one time I asked, again with UA, in IAD with a delayed flight to SEA, they tried, but could not find anything that would make me make my AS connection in SEA to YVR (which was on an different ITIN).


  2. Sara Says:

    I was 240′d once I’m sure, though they didn’t refer to it in those terms – and I didn’t ask for it. Frankly, as long as you are kind, and determined but not demanding, you usually don’t have to invoke any rule.

    I just paid attention, and noticed that the gate agent was trying to direct people in line to another desk — I moved quickly over, and got a flight that left only 20 minutes after my original.

  3. Samir Says:

    I’ve been 240′d a couple times & have asked for it before. Keep in mind that it ONLY applies to mechanical & airline-fault delays – not weather. NW has rebooked me on AS at least twice. UA rebooked me on Frontier once – that was the experience I asked for it from Denver to DC.

  4. MCB Says:

    Sure – I’ve been rebooked on other carriers routinely, though less often in the last few years. Most recent time was in ’03 in Detroit, where the old America West had a broken plane, and I was trying to get home to SFO via PHX. Finally after several delays the gate agent paged all the pax going to SFO (6 or 7 of us), handed out a stack of boarding passes, and said “Go to gate ___ and get on the American plane there. Run! Run! Sort out the boarding passes when you get there! Just get on that flight!”

    So we ran, made the flight with seconds to spare, sorted the boarding passes out, and only after boarding the aircraft did I realize that I didn’t actually know where the flight was going. (It turned out to be STL, and it was on the boarding pass.) Made the connection there and all was well. Quick thinking by the gate agent.

  5. G.Twilley Says:

    I was scheduled for a flight from BHM to PHL (To close on a house the next day – this was an evening flight). NWA had “Staffing problems,” (the rumor amongst passengers was that this had happened more than once before on the same route on the same day of the week in different circumstances).

    When I arrived to the counter, they said they had no more flights.

    Having worked the front desk of a hotel, I usually keep my cool, but I literally raised hell. They put me on the phone with someone in customer service (apparently, the phone people have more authority than the desk people) and they set me up on a flight on US Airways.

    I actually blogged about it last May:

  6. James Salter Says:

    I was 240′d once, by UA to a NW flight- I had been booked CVG-ORD-MSP but weather in ORD (big surprise) was causing problems- When I arrived at check-in, they already had me rebooked on a direct NW flight CVG- MSP. Lost my upgrade but arrived in MSP before I would have on UA. BTW, had 1P status at that point, so that may have been the cause more than Rule 240.

  7. Kevin Says:

    I was 240′d once (even though i probably shouldn’t have been) when i was flying BNA-EWR on CO. The flight had been canceled due to heavy rains in EWR, and when i went to check-in (I hadn’t known about the cancellation before I arrived at the airport) the gate agent quickly rebooked me on an AA flight to LGA, before the passengers at the gate made their way back up to the ticketing desk.

  8. Courtney Says:

    I’ve been 240′d a few times, most recently twice on the same trip. I was flying to MSP via Denver on Frontier Airlines a few days before Christmas in Dec. 2007. Denver was getting hammered with snow and the entire airport was closed. Since all flights on Frontier go through Denver, and it was impossible to get through on the phone lines, I went to the airport the night before the flight. The agent told me that she could put me on another flight – if I was able to find an available seat. So, I went to NWA counter, asked politely, and the woman somehow found me a confirmed seat that night. I went back to Frontier with the magic numbers she had scribbled down and rushed home to pack.

    On the return flight home from MSP a week later, right before New Years, I was again scheduled through Denver…which was closed with yet with another storm. This time, I went directly to the NWA counter to ask if they could find me a seat. They gave me some magic numbers, which I later handed to the surprised Frontier agent, who was happy to transfer me to the non-stop flight back home.

  9. The Global Traveller Says:

    I’ve been put on competing airlines many times, even for some fairly minor delays, and often without even asking for it.

    That is one of the benefits (and in my view the most important benefit) of having (high enough) status with the airline you are flying. When flights are disrupted they may go far beyond what they are required to.

  10. j67484 Says:

    I don’t know if it’s known as rule 240 on european and asian airlines, but i’ve asked and been reticketed with a competitor twice: from ANA to JAL and from Lufthansa to Finnair.

    In both cases they would by default leave me waiting for the next flight for several hours, but after insisting, I got reticketed.

  11. Matthew Gulino Says:

    I was flying from Columbus, OH to BOS on USAirways. They called me about 5 hours before the flight and informed me that the plane wouldn’t make it in time to Ohio to get me to my connection at DCA. They booked me a ticket on an AirTran flight direct to BOS. Thought that was pretty neat.

  12. mark Says:

    I’ve gotten the benefit of Rule 240 (or its progeny) many times, including being issued a FIM — Flight Interruption Manifest — for travel on a competing airline. (Note: it is a very long sprint between terminals at ORD.)

    However, earlier this year UAL denied me Rule 240 compensation. Short version: I redeemed US Airways miles for travel in first class on UAL, which a) canceled our originating flight for mechanical reasons and b) rebooked us in coach. UAL customer service refused to compensate me for the difference, saying I need to resolve it with US instead. In some ways this makes perverse sense — UAL can’t credit back miles to my US account (although frankly I’d take UAL miles instead) — but in other respects it’s needlessly complicated. If US does refund miles to me, I expect they’re going to turn around and settle up with UAL for the reduced value of the seats actually flown.

  13. Al B. Says:

    I was 240ed in 2006 without making a request. A United flight from DFW to SBA through LAX was cancelled but the airline had no way to reach me before I got to the airport.

    The agent put me on an American flight, which not only left an hour earlier but was nonstop to SBA. Both agents handled themselves with aplomb.

    Slightly off topic, but I’ve found that not dressing like a slob and maintaining your composure are the best ways of earning compassion from an agent.

  14. Mark Ashley Says:

    Lots of good stories here, and thanks to everyone for sharing.

    Interestingly, only 4 people (so far) have indicated that they were DENIED an attempt at Rule 240. Yet no one told their tale in the comments.

    So far, Greenberg defeats Brancatelli in the Rule 240 wars!

  15. RC Says:

    Interesting to me is that so many people were 240ed without asking for it.

    Also, it’s the same airlines that keep coming up. United, Continental, American, Frontier, Northwest, US Airways. AirTran and Alaska are also get a mention.

    So, Mark, what’s the “long story” with your rebooking on a free Delta ticket?

  16. MW Says:

    You want a true story of an airline refusing to use Rule 240? How about the airline people love to hate? United, of course. A year ago I was flying coach ORDSEA on a late morning non-stop and they had a mechanical. They have frequent non-stops on that route but they refused to move anyone from our flight to another flight saying they were all full. The flight kept getting more and more delayed, (as in hours) so some people did stand-by for other UA flights and got on. By 5 pm I was getting worried as I had a 7 am meeting the next day and had to prepare for it yet and asked to be put on another airline under Rule 240. The agent refused. I called reservations and after speaking to someone in India who had no idea what I was talking about and said to talk to the counter. I tried again as did others. By this time people were rushing from gate to gate trying to get on other flights to Seattle. Late that night UA finally brought in a replacement plane to operate the flight. They were not about to give up any passengers with a 240. But why they wouldn’t begin booking some of us on some of their earlier non-stops or even 1-stop is beyond me.

  17. Michael Says:

    I’ve had it happen at least 5 times in the last 2 years. I travel about twice a month, so that’s a pretty good hit rate.

    1. I was supposed to fly United SEA-DEN-AUS, and the SEA-DEN leg was delayed several hours. They put me on American with no fuss at all.

    2. Flying United from DFW-DEN-SEA, the DFW-DEN flight was delayed, so they put me on a direct flight home on Alaska.

    3. Flying United (sense a theme here?) from BNA-ORD-SEA, there were ATC issues, so they put me on Delta through Atlanta.

    4. Flying United from Omaha-DEN-SEA, the Omaha-DEN flight was canceled, so they put me on NWA through MSP.

    5. Flying Alaska from LAS-SEA, my flight was delayed, so they put me on United.

    I only had to raise a stink for one of those–every other time, they did it without me even asking. It might help that I’m Premier Exec on United, but I don’t really know.

  18. Mark Ashley Says:

    So, Mark, what’s the “long story” with your rebooking on a free Delta ticket?


    I was scheduled to fly Anchorage-LAX-Chicago on Delta, which was the return trip on a freebie SkyMiles ticket. But I wasn’t in Anchorage yet. I was starting the day in Sitka, Alaska.

    I held a cash-fare on Alaska Airlines Sitka-Juneau-Anchorage. Juneau was fogged in. We attempted the approach twice, but aborted. The pilot announced that we would be flying to Ketchikan instead.

    From there, we were given a choice: Disembark, and wait out the fog to fly to Juneau, or stay on the plane and continue to Seattle.

    There was no way we’d be catching the Anchorage-Los Angeles flight at that point, so we took our chances and flew to Seattle. Upon arrival, we showed up at the Delta counter and explained what happened. Delta was confused, to say the least. At first they said our claim was with Alaska, not them. But after I pleaded sympathy, they put me on an American Airlines flight to O’Hare, with no charge. (In retrospect, I’m assuming that was a 240′ing.)

    It worked out great. In fact, I arrived nearly 12 hours earlier than my scheduled itinerary.

    (This was 1997. Something tells me this wouldn’t work today.)

    My luggage, unsurprisingly, was left on the tarmac in Ketchikan. But one day later, it was delivered (intact!) to my Chicago apartment, by American Airlines, the final carrier on my itinerary.

    Delta and American both earned a ton of good will. Especially Delta. I was super-appreciative of the Delta agent who helped me out that day. Nearly eleven years later, I still am.

  19. Jason Says:

    In the two years, I have been “240′ed” twice and additionally refused an offered “240″ once (wasn’t able to get first class on the alternate flight). All flights were originally on UA. The first was moved to AA and the second was to NW. In both cases I had to ask about getting routed on another carrier. In the first case (UA to AA), I actually walked to the AA gate and asked if their flight had seats left, then walked back to UA and told them that the AA flight had seats. The UA gate agent seemed surprised and happily signed me over to AA. The second case (UA to NW) was done over the phone on the morning of the trip.

  20. Howard Says:

    I read this blog often, but this is one topic I had to chime in about. As a former DL ACS agent, I can’t tell you how often we rebooked pax on other carriers. In general though, it is almost NEVER referred to as a 240 (which we must stamp or write/initial on any docs). The reason is that with the exception of JetBlue and Southwest almost ANY airline can transfer E-tickets back and forth without problem. A true 240 for DL is really just a term printed or written to show the other airline so they know what the hell is going on with our former pax standing in front of them. The aforementioned airlines do NOT have interline agreements and therefore no relationships with other mainline carriers. And its a two way street: working at CVG, we had a Jetblue flight make a medical stop (and crew timeout to boot), and the pax POURED out of the plane. Up they came to the counters asking for accommodations. Even if I wanted to (keep in mind there isn’t a Jetblue counter at CVG), the ticket they held has no value to us (no interline) so I could happily SELL them a walkup ticket or they could just wait for the new crew to get flown in from JFK. Now, a DL (or really any carrier) flight cancels? I could lookup and transfer your ticket in under 2 minutes with relative ease, just always had to call the other Airlines counter to make sure availability was as good as the computer showed (we got OAL avail of “7′s” just like a travel agent instead of true bookings and seats like on DL flights).

    Now, FIM’s. A FIM is really, REALLY rare. Something absolutely crazy has to be going on with your inten (maybe multiple conx on different OAL’s to get you there, international hijinks, and a few other extra-extraordinary circumstances). In a given year, I might do 6-10 of those. They are truly a collectors item if you get one, make a copy!

    Anyways, hope that helped shine some light on it from the other side of the counter!


  21. Mark Ashley Says:

    Thanks for the insight from the agent’s side of things! Very helpful!

  22. Mary Branscombe Says:

    On our honeymoon, we flew to New Zealand via LAX from LHR; we made a side-trip from LAX to Las Vegas with America West. (the travel agent had given us 3-4 ours layover; I had food poisoning and sat in the lounge for hours because AW couldn’t shift us to an earlier flight)

    For the flight back to LAX, AW had cancelled the flight; they tried to put on an AW flight that would get us to LAX 15 minutes before the Air New Zealand flight took off. When we complained the counter agent took offense – I know how to be rude and had certainly not been rude at that point – called her manager and was told to reticket us onto a Ted flight. She did it – but she didn’t mark the flight in correctly so all our future flight segments were cancelled because she cancelled the AW segment. We got to LAX and found that Air New Zealand has us listed as cancelled and had passed the priority reserved upstairs seats on to other travellers; I was impressed that they were able to re-instate all our other segments (Auckland to Christchurch and back and then home) in count it, 2 minutes. But I’ll never fly America West ever again.

  23. Zach Says:

    I was actually 240′d this past Friday on a flight from PHL to YUL. I was booked (using miles) on AA from PHL to YUL via ORD but the flight to O’Hare was delayed (actually because of weather, nothing else). I asked the gate agent if she would book me on a direct (50 min.) US Airways flight to Montreal because I would have missed my connection and she did even though there was a flight from ORD to YUL that I would have made 2 hours later. I actually got to YUL 3 hours before my original arrival time.

  24. Edward Murray Says:

    I have been accommodated on other airlines probably hundreds of times, but today learned from US Airways that part of their Customer First policy is to simply refund the ticket if they cancel a flight.

    The situation is that my wife booked a ticket for a conference months in advance. Today, US Airways informed us that her return flight (over a month from now) has been canceled and since they don’t have another flight to the same destination, our only option is to accept a refund. I was told explicitly that they have no obligation to book my wife on another airline and their terms of transportation says that they “may,” not WILL attempt to accommodate you on another airline.

    What this means is that we now have to purchase an expensive one-way fare from another airline.

    Incidentally, this ticket was purchased through Orbitz and they have washed their hands of any responsibility for satisfactorily resolving the problem. Once they have your money, its between you and the airline.

  25. Susan Johnson Says:

    I have invoked Rule 240 only once. My grandson and I were flying from San Diego to Toronto, Canada on American Airlines. The American Eagle flight out of San Diego was delayed 45 minutes (no explanation by the airline), causing us to miss our connection at LAX. The gate attendant said she could book us on their red eye to Toronto that was seven hours away. I asked her if she would 240 us and she acted as if she didn’t know what it was. I asked to speak to a supervisor. After a 15-minute wait, the supervisor arrived and I asked for us to be 240′d. Not only did she give us a $40 voucher for dinner at the airport, but she put us on an Air Canada flight that left two hours later and gave us a $100 voucher to fly on American within the next year. It pays to invoke the rule. I knew American’s 240 policy, but this supervisor gave us the red carpet treatment and we are loyal American Airlines passengers as a result. Don’t hesitate to invoke 240! And make sure you have a copy of it and the airline’s conditions in your hand!

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