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Rule 240: When and How To Use It

(July 31, 2002)

Floating in a boat in the middle of Lake Tahoe, relaxing for one last time before leaving the following morning, I became startled by an unwelcoming cell phone ring. It was Frontier Airlines calling to give me the bad news that my 11:40 a.m. flight had been cancelled due to a "mechanical" problem. Frontier wanted to book me on its 7 a.m. flight to Denver then to Chicago. I asked if there was a later flight within two hours of my original flight. The agent said there was one, but it was sold out. I then asked about being put on another carrier, but the agent told me that wouldn't be possible. Then I politely said, "What about Rule 240?"

Not all airlines are alike

In the last few months, I've had two experiences of how individual airlines deal with Rule 240, the part of your contract that tells you what your airline must do if its flight is delayed or cancelled. What I've found is that one airline (US Airways) automatically invoked Rule 240, whereas the other (Frontier) needed prodding before it would give in.

Rule 240 differs slightly from airline to airline, but the core of the rule is the same. By and large, the rule governs the airline's responsibility and passenger rights concerning flight delays, cancellations, and misconnections. In the case of US Airways, I was placed on another airline's flight from Atlanta to Pittsburgh without even asking. However, with Frontier, I had to ask and be persistent until they eventually put me on a 9:20 a.m. Delta flight through Salt Lake City then onto Chicago.

Still, I couldn't help feeling sorry for my fellow Frontier passengers who accepted the late-night flight the airline offered. They didn't know to ask to be placed on another carrier, much less for meals or a hotel, which they might have been entitled to under the rule.

Rule 240 basics

Rule 240 applies only to delays that are absolutely the airline's fault, such as the mechanical problems. It does not apply to what the airlines call "force majeure" events, which include weather, strikes, or other occurrences that the airlines say they cannot control.

When a Rule 240 incident occurs, the airline must do everything in its power to get you to your final destination within a two-hour span. Airlines typically try to confirm you on their next available flight to your destination. Under the rule, the flight must be in the same or higher class, at no additional cost to you. If this is not available or acceptable to you, the airline will confirm you on the next available flight on a different airline.

What to do

Knowing the basics can give you an advantage.

  • Be cordial when speaking to airline agents. Don't assume that they will know what Rule 240 is. If you don't think the agent understands what you are referring to, ask to speak to a supervisor.

  • Be specific. It helps to know the flight schedule of the airline and other airlines that offer flights to your destination. Keep in mind that being placed on another carrier will depend upon availability and the ticketing arrangements the airlines have with each other. There are some airlines that won't accept other airlines' tickets.

  • If your flight is delayed more than a few hours, ask for a club pass, meal voucher, and a phone call.

  • If you aren't in your hometown and your flight is delayed more than four hours, the airline will provide you a hotel room along with transportation to and from the airport.

  • If you object to any of the alternatives, the airline must refund your money. Often, the agent will give you the option to keep your ticket and use it when you are ready to travel again (within a year).
Lastly, always remember to call the airline the day before your flight to check its status. More importantly, when you leave home, make sure to give the airline your cell phone or contact number. It goes without saying: If the airline can't contact you, then you could end up with an unpleasant surprise at the airport.

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