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Rule 240 Revisited

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Rule 240 Revisited

By George Hobica

Airfarewatchdog.com

Much has been written about something called Rule 240. Some pundits claim it’s an “urban travel legend” and no longer exists. Others disagree.

What is Rule 240? Well, back in the days when airlines were regulated by a government agency, they all had to abide by some sensible rules to protect passengers in case of, among other things, a cancellation or misconnection that was within the airline’s control. These rules were incorporated in the airlines’ contracts of carriage. Post-deregulation, these rules no longer had to be followed, but some airlines, whether formed after or before deregulation, perhaps because they were too lazy to completely rewrite their contracts, kept the same rules. Airlines formed after deregulation typically didn’t incorporate these rules into their contracts, and some have done away with them.

Anyway, Rule 240 originally stated that in the event of a cancellation or flight misconnection, the airline would have to put you on their next flight out, or, if that wasn’t “acceptable,” on the next flight out of a competing airline if that flight would get you to your destination sooner, all at no additional cost to you. If only first class was available on the other airline, then they had to upgrade you. This only applied in circumstances under the airlines’ control, such as crew failing to show up, or mechanical problems.

So does Rule 240, or something like it, still exist? Well, we searched the contracts of carriage for a bunch of big and smaller airlines to find out, and near as we can see, several airlines, such as Alaska and United, still have something they call Rule 240, and others, such as Delta, Southwest, and Virgin America, have more vague language saying that they will put you on another airline at their “sole discretion” or that they “may substitute alternate carriers.” And some airlines don’t call it Rule 240 at all, instead using a numbering system of their own invention (Alaska calls it "Rule 240AS" for example, and Continental calls it "Rule 24").

Keep in mind that airlines can change their contracts at any time, and several of the larger ones have done so in recent months. And sometimes there isn’t a flight on another airline that will get you there sooner, especially if you’re traveling from or through a so-called “fortress hub,” such as Atlanta, a Delta Airlines stronghold, or there may be no seats available on the other airline’s next flight. Also, if you're traveling on a "bulk," "consolidator," or other unpublished airfare, then all bets are off.

To address the skeptics, in the chart below we’ve done our best to interpret the airlines’ policies, and have excerpted the actual language from their current (as of May 2010) contracts of carriage, which, although we're travel journalists not lawyers, we assume are legally binding documents. Below the chart, we’ve also provided links to the contracts on the airlines’ Web sites so you can see for yourself.

We've noted whether, near as we can tell, the airline will put you in first class on its own (or another carrier's) next flight out.

Rule 240 (or something like it) by airline

 

Airline

Coach?

First Class?

And we quote….

Air Tran

No

No

Not applicable

Alaska

Yes

Yes (amazingly, yes)

“If acceptable to the passenger, [Carrier will] provide transportation on another airline's direct flight, or combination of connecting carriers … in the same or higher class [emphasis ours] of service on the passenger's ticket at no additional charge.”

American

No

No

“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.”

Continental

Under some circum-stances

Yes on CO only

“CO will transport the Passenger on its own flights, subject to availability, to the Destination in the same class of service, at no additional cost to the Passenger, provided that a Passenger who paid a Coach fare will only be transported on a flight in First Class or Business First Class Service subject to seat availability and if such flight will provide an earlier arrival than CO’s next flight on which coach space is available; Reroute Passengers over the lines of one or more carriers when a Change in Schedule results in the cancellation of all CO service between two cities.”

 

 

Delta

Maybe

Maybe

“At our sole discretion, we may arrange for your travel on another carrier or via ground transportation.”

Frontier

Yes (if arrival delayed 4 hours or more)

Only on Frontier

“If the delay or misconnection is caused by Frontier, Frontier will transport the passenger without stopover on its next available flight in the same or higher booking class, at no additional cost to the passenger. If Frontier is unable to provide onward transportation that arrives within four hours of the passenger’s original itinerary, or at the passenger’s request, Frontier will arrange for the passenger’s transportation on another carrier or combination of carriers with whom Frontier has agreements for such transportation.”

Hawaiian

Yes

Yes

“If the carrier causing such delay, or in the case of misconnection the original receiving carrier(s) is unable to provide onward transportation acceptable to the passenger, any other carrier or combination of connecting carriers, at the request of the passenger will transport the passenger … in the same class of service as the passenger's original outbound flight; or if space is available on a flight(s) of a different class of service acceptable to the passenger, such flight(s) will be used … only if it (they) will provide an earlier arrival at the passenger's destination.”

JetBlue

No

No

“Whenever Carrier cancels or otherwise fails to operate any scheduled flight, Carrier will, at the request of the Passenger either transport the Passenger on another of Carrier’s flights on which space is available at no additional charge or provide a full refund.”

Southwest

Maybe

Probably not

“At times, without prior notice to passengers, Carrier may need to substitute other…airlines…”

Spirit No No "Spirit will not reimburse customers for flights that they take on other carriers."

United

Yes

No

“If UA is unable to provide onward transportation acceptable to the passenger UA…will arrange for transportation on another carrier…with whom UA has agreements for such transportation…in the same class of service as the passenger’s outbound flight at no additional cost to the passenger.”

 

US Airways

Maybe

Maybe

“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 [emphasis ours] 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.”

Virgin America

Maybe

Maybe

“Virgin America may, without notice, substitute alternate carriers…”

 

 

Links to contracts of carriage

AirTran
Alaska
American
Continental
Delta
Frontier
Hawaiian
Jetblue
Southwest
United
US Airways
Virgin America

 

And if you're traveling within or from any member country of the European Union, you're protected by an additional set of rights that are even stronger than those in the airlines' domestic contracts of carriage or those issued by the US government:

See: Passenger Rights in the European Union.

Read our other useful charts

In case you missed them, these consumer-oriented charts have a lot of useful information:


The flexible search chart

The ship your luggage by UPS or FedEx ground chart
(very useful comments from readers)

The don't buy insurance from your airline chart

The cash back credit card chart

The frequent flyer fee chart

The constantly updated airline baggage fee chart

and The "other" airline fee chart

Categories: Airline Industry News
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