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?
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