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Your Rights When Flights Are Delayed: All About Rule 240

Department of Transportation. You thought this summer was bad? Well, fasten your seatbelts; it's going to be a bumpy ride for many years to come. Mind you, this isn't even factoring in possible labor strife at the airlines. Hence, the United Airlines -- or shall I say 'Divided Airlines?' -- tete-a-tete with its pilots and mechanics. Who said travel was glamorous? The last glamorous piece of aviation, the Concorde, is now parked in the U.K and France. Overall, it has been a terrible summer. That being said, there are some things you can do as an airline passenger to make your flights less turbulent. The following tidbits and advice are timeless; therefore, it all bears repeating. One more thing, if you are flying this summer hold on to your sense of humor. You'll need it!

E-Tickets -- "Fugghettaboutem"

If you are flying an airline with serious schedule problems (such as United Airlines or America West), you should probably have a paper ticket. E-tickets won't help you should you need to fly another carrier. If your flight is delayed or canceled, you have more options with a printed ticket.

The Big Kahuna -- Rule 240

In short, Rule 240 isn't really a rule; it's a term. It was a rule in the days of governmental airline regulation, but after deregulation in 1978, such rules were no longer enforceable. Most airlines, however, continue to abide by the old rules even though they "technically" don't have to. It's just good business for the airlines to do so.

Simply put, Rule 240 states that an airline must deliver you to your destination within two hours of the originally scheduled arrival time. If they cannot, they must place you on another carrier.
Under Rule 240, you are also entitled to a meal voucher, a free phone call, and a lounge pass.

It's important to remember, though, that Rule 240 applies only to mechanical delays, or delays that are completely the fault of the airline, and not to weather-related delays. You'll want to become familiar with the term force majeur. A force majeur is any condition beyond the airline's control. These include weather, acts of God, riots, civil commotion, embargoes, wars, hostilities, disturbances, unsettled international conditions, and any strike, work stoppage, slowdown, lockout or any other labor-related dispute involving or affecting the airline's service, etc.

This is where things get interesting. United Airlines updated their Rule 240 on March 29 of this year to include the following: "Any shortage of labor, fuel or facilities of United Airlines or others" (paragraph "I," section 4). Frankly, a pilot shortage is the fault of the airline. This isn't a strike, which is a whole different situation. Lawsuits have already been filed in court about United's inability to provide service. Clearly, United Airlines knew back in March that it was going to have a problem filling the cockpits. To their credit they are cutting two thousand flights in September so they can become more "reliable."

If you become a victim of a force majeur event, you are unfortunately at the mercy of the airline. Airlines can cancel, terminate, divert, postpone, or delay any flight without notice in these situations. The airline's only obligation is to refund the price of your ticket, depending on its individual policy and agreements with other carriers. Many airlines will try to accommodate you the best they can, but Rule 240 does not require them to do so in the case of a force majeur.

Skygod Shortage

If you think only United Airlines encounters pilot shortages, I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I'll sell you. Airlines are reluctant to train too many pilots because training is so expensive. However, given the current customer fallout in response to pilot shortages, it might be cheaper for them to so do in the long run.

It is best not to fly the last week of the month. If an airline does not have enough pilots to cover all the necessary flights, the schedule at the end of the month will be especially sparse. This can also carry over into the very beginning of the month. In addition, when an airline is retiring an aircraft from the fleet there can be some scheduling problems, which can also result in a lack of available pilots.

Pilots are only allowed to fly a certain number of "flight" hours per month. This varies from airline to airline, with the majority being around eighty hours a month. This ends up being about sixteen days of flying. If eighty hours of "block time" a month might not sound like a lot to you, keep this in mind. "Block time" is measured from when the aircraft door shuts to when it opens. This is how pilots and flight attendants are paid. This does not include time spent sitting around in airports or when the plane is simply sitting at the gate. If the door is not shut, the flight crew is not paid. I can tell you as a former flight attendant, I hated sitting around like that because it was very frustrating and unproductive.

With record load factors, delays, and skyrocketing consumer complaints, it always works to your advantage to educate yourself on important consumer issues.



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