The Final Word On Rule 240

Reader Laura was nearly stranded in Manchester when Continental canceled her flight two days before a major college test. She politely asked to be rebooked; she begged for another flight; when that failed, she invoked Rule 240. Laura’s experience presents the perfect opportunity to clarify once and for all what Rule 240 is and isn’t. First, her story.

Hi all,

As a devoted reader of your site, I have read the multiple articles on the famous “Rule 240″ which can sometimes assist the desperate traveler. Thus, when I saw that my return flight was canceled, I remained calm knowing I was armed with this knowledge. I had arrived a full two hours before my flight, and was extremely patient in the fifty minute wait to get to the counter. A different flight had also been canceled, and I watched with amusement as one man actually put his friend on speakerphone to confirm that weather was *not* an issue in Newark. I must say that the agent’s face was a lovely shade of eggplant during this stunt. When I finally reached the front of the line, I was positive that courteousness and sympathy would cajole this harried staff into pushing me onto another flight.

At this point, it is important to give a bit of background. I am a full-time college student, so naturally money is always an issue. I had decided to fly home for spring break, and had booked it out in advance on Continental using my father’s miles. I had the perfect setup: an early flight on Saturday + an evening flight on Sunday = maximum time with family and pets. I had an exam on Tuesday, and the review was Monday morning. Missing class was NOT an option. I was flying out of South Bend, Indiana into Manchester, New Hampshire- two very small airports which are both two-three hours away from the major hubs of O’Hare and Logan.

Now- back to the story. I asked if he could check whether or not there was an available route that would get me back to school (I stressed that the number of connections were not a problem) and he responded that the absolute soonest he could manage this was TUESDAY. I explained the issue with my exam, and was met with a blank stare. I decided it was time to drop the 240 line. He rolled his eyes and responded, “Well you can ask them,” motioning to the other counters. I glanced at the Delta and United lines, which were approaching Disneyworld length, and politely requested that he check what would be available to me before I left the counter. He told me he could not do that. I asked if he could check Logan, figuring they would have many more flights. After no more than two seconds of glancing at his screen, he said that they had nothing. I then asked if he could specifically check Logan to O’Hare. This time he didn’t even pretend to look- he just flat out said no. I was trying to remain calm, but I was almost in tears at this point. I was literally running up against a brick wall.

I hauled my bags down to the Delta counter. Once I reached the front, I quickly explained my dilemma to the woman. She gnawed on a red talon as she informed me that the Delta flight to Chicago was pulling back and there was no way I could get there in time. I almost lost it at this point- if Mr. Continental had gone the extra inch, I could have been on that flight. She was slightly more helpful in terms of willingness to actually use her computer, but produced no results. I got the basically same story at United.

Thankfully, my father saved the day. He went online and found a Southwest flight to Chicago leaving in about fourty minutes with a few open seats. Given the circumstances, we had no choice but to pay the exorbitant price for the last minute ticket. So much for saving money. I made it back to Chicago, but missed the bus back to campus by fifteen minutes. I had to wait another two hours to catch the next one (another $40, by the way), finally returning at 2 am. My car was still at South Bend airport, and I couldn’t find a ride to collect it until Wednesday ($30 extra). The final kicker? A heavy baggage charge from DELTA randomly appeared on my credit card from the flight home (I hate dealing with Capital One).

Bottom line: I would not be writing this e-mail if the agent had offerend one iota of assistance or even sympathy. I know they are often the messenger who gets killed, and I always keep this in mind when I am dealing with them. Screaming at them is no more effective then screaming at your local gas station owner about prices. However, I expect this decency to be returned, and I truly feel that it wasn’t. I urge EVERYONE to vote for the airlines (most especially CONTINENTAL) in The Consumerist’s worst company contest… they are working harder than Hillary to win this thing.

Rule 240 does not exist. It was once a pillar of traveler’s rights back in the good old days when regulators wore suits and ties to work and struck fear into the hearts of businessmen. The rule, which required airlines to rebook waylaid travelers on the next available flight regardless of airline, officially disappeared with the Civil Aeronautics Board in the 70s. However, even though it is no longer enforceable in the “I’ll get my lawyer!” sense, it is worth asking ticketing agents to 240 you. Sometimes they are nice and help out. It didn’t work for Laura, but it was well worth a try.

Still, we can’t help but notice that the real disservice here is from Laura’s college. Who schedules a midterm two days after spring break? That’s just cruel.

(Photo: lunchtimemama)

Comments

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  1. Krolls says:

    Sorry to hear about that horrible experince. You were flying into Manch? Where do you go to school?

  2. ghost77 says:

    Just a quick note … Manchester-Boston Regional Airport (Manchester, NH) is approx 40 mins from Logan … not 2-3 hours. Not that it has any real bearing on this story, except that if one had to transfer from Manchester to a flight at Logan, it wouldn’t be a big problem.

  3. DeltaPurser says:

    Some info you may not be aware of:

    A ticket agent only knows the availability on his own airline. There is VERY limited information on how many seats are available on a different airline. The most he can do is make a reservation for you and you would then have to walk over to the other airline to see if they are willing to FIM you over, using your original ticket as payment. He can not force them to accept you…

    If you are told there is a delay because of weather, it does not necessarily involve either the origin or the destination, so the guy yelling the weather is OK in Newark may be correct… The problem is the aircraft you will be using to get there is coming from somewhere with weather problems, which is going to have a ripple effect on all flights that day.

    Contrary to what most people think, airlines are NOT in the business of screwing you over. We actually want to get you there and back. Sometimes shit happens that causes delays and cancellations… That people get upset is one thing, but to create some type of conspiracy theories based on this is just ridiculous.

  4. Parting says:

    @ghost77: if you have a car…

    If you stuck to take bus (so you don’t spend a fortune on taxi), it can get more than that.

  5. Sudonum says:

    @DeltaPurser:
    If what you say is true, how is it then that United, at Dulles, was able to get me on a Delta flight out of National when the United flight I was booked on was canceled due to mechanical reasons? I left the counter at United with a voucher that had all of the flight information that I simply handed to the Delta agent.

  6. Gloria says:

    Who schedules midterms after spring break? Everyone does.

  7. MissTic says:

    I feel her pain! I’m in the midst of dealing with Airtran for my son. He’s returning tomorrow so I’m waiting to see how it goes. I may very well end up writing a letter that ends up here.

    My only advice for the young lady would be to either keep copies of all airline schedules (for her city pairs) or have wireless access on your handheld device to look this stuff up. She was clearly at the mercy of the ticket counter and her father had to step in to look for the flight on Southwest. I’m not blaming her at all, quite the contrary…but being armed with information really helps. Our own saga this week taught us a lot. I had to rely on my cell phone and a very helpful family member to look up alternate routes.

    She could have said to Mr. Unhelpful Continential Agent, “I see that X airlines has a flight, can you assist me in making arrangement with them instead?” Instead she got met with a blank stare. Ugh. I really have airline travel. Clearly, this would have done little but you never know. An informed traveler is really the airline’s worst nightmare.

    I hope the OP is also writing to the airline. Good luck!

  8. MikeB says:

    @DeltaPurser: I was flying out on Continental, went to check in only to see that my flight connecting via Newark was canceled. The lady that helped me gave me a voucher for a flight on Northwest that connected via Detroit. She didn’t know / tell me that it was delayed by 2 hours but I was on a flight.

    The return trip on the other hand, not sure why Northwest had my flight land 40 min before my connecting flight took off. Not normally an issue, but I was in the last seat on the first leg and had to go from Concourse C to Concourse A in Detroit, and that is not a quick trip.

  9. oakie says:

    i love hearing stories about “know it alls” getting the shaft. it warms my stony little heart. :-)

  10. DeltaPurser says:

    @Sudonum: Happens on a daily basis… It would still involve the ticket agent making a phone call to the other airline’s ticket counter to actually confirm that there are free seats and that they are willing to accept you at face value.

    Your voucher is not a ticket per se, it’s a FIM (Flight Interruption Manifest) which shows the receiving airline that the original airline will pay them the the money collected to accept the passenger…

    In other words: if you paid $100 dollars for a ticket on Delta and your flight was cancelled, they would have to pay United the $100 to accept you on a flight. So it’s up to United to decide if they are willing to accept you at face value. If they think they can sell the last two seats to someone for $400 each, then they will most likely not accept you… But since FIM’s are usually last minute, most of them are accepted.

  11. euleria says:

    “Still, we can’t help but notice that the real disservice here is from Laura’s college. Who schedules a midterm two days after spring break? That’s just cruel.”

    And I’ll bet money that NEXT week there’ll be a consumerist.com post taking college professors to task for squandering student tuition money by canceling class the day before a long break, or otherwise caving in to the demands of students wanting a cushy academic schedule to fit their own personal travel plans.

    If the college calendar calls it a class day, then by gum I’m likely to schedule a quiz or exam that day, even if it is 8am on the Monday after spring break, or 4pm the day before Thanksgiving. It isn’t cruel; it’s efficient use of valuable class time.

  12. consumersaur says:

    @euleria: Jeez! Lighten up! The “cruelty” bit wasn’t meant to be taken so seriously… god.

  13. Antediluvian says:

    I’m so confused by this item.

    Where were you flying FROM, and TO, and WHEN? How did you make it to Boston (per the text by Carey)? You were trying to get to Chicago from South Bend? Your car was at South Bend airport but your campus is in Chicago? Your parents live in Chicago but you flew via Newark? How did Delta get your credit card info? You drove your car to Manchester?

    I cannot parse the travel directions and plans of this student. How did you end up in Boston? Hell, were you ever actually IN Boston? Southwest doesn’t fly out of Logan.

    My head hurts from reading this. I’ve spent too much time trying to parse this to care about some college kid who can’t figure out that flying halfway across the country on a Sunday evening before a vital Monday morning event is risky at best, especially at a time of year when winter storms are still quite possible. But from a college student who can’t write clearly about it is just painful. (Sorry kid if Carey messed up your text.)

    Well, important lesson here: determine how much you value stress and money. You can usually only save ONE of those two at a time. I hope you did well on your exam.

  14. silencedotcom says:

    I’ve stopped flying Manchester/Boston Regional (still Manchester to me!) a year ago. I’ve been flying from Cedar Rapids, IA to Manchester, NH for 2 years since I was in college. Through the lack of flights, and the problem that if there is ANY sort of weather, Manchester absolutely collapses, I’ve decided to drive the 45 extra minutes to Logan Int’l. Since I started doing that at the beginning of this year, I haven’t had any problems.

    Bottom line: Suck in Manchester. And Continental does suck.

  15. castlecraver says:

    OP: Why was your flight canceled? The reasoning drastically effects how you may invoke Rule 240. If, for example, it was due to weather (even if it was the weather elsewhere in the system preventing a plane from being available), the airline’s liability is only to get you on their next available flight or refund your ticket.

  16. JohnnyE says:

    “Using your father’s miles” means what, you were flying on a free ticket, i.e. a premium from the airline where they makes their excess/spare capacity available to you at no/little charge.

    That’s likely the issue right there. However much you were inconvenienced and looking for alternatives, there were likely some full fare paying customers in the same situation. Beyond that, there were likely full fare paying, loyalty-program customers looking for the same treatment. Those people naturally would have been well ahead of you in terms of priority for service and alternatives from the airlines — especially for alternatives which would have cost them real money (rather than just allocations of excess capacity.)

    Ultimately, you get what you pay for — and with a free ticket, you were looking for far more than you paid for. You also often get the customer service you ‘pay for’ as well — with exaggerated drama queen statements like “literally running into a brick wall”, you should probably expect an eye roll or two.

  17. Id_LQQK says:

    @DeltaPurser:
    In your reply to Sudonum, You said “Happens on a daily basis…”
    Well this was a day when the CSR did not fullfill that obligation to the customer. Failure of CSRs and companies to do what is right, moral, and concurrent to good ethical business practices is the underlying reason for the Consumerist.com. So, that is why her story was posted on this site.
    Maybe you should post your perspective on the Anti-consumerist.com website… but no one would read them.
    If you want to post here and not look like a consumer-hater, I suggest you lend your insider wisdom to help remedy the problematic situation and help this and other consumers work better to attain what should be a mutual goal…
    A SATISFIED CUSTOMER, today, tommorrow, and the next day. That might even pull us out of a recession because a happy consumer spends money.

  18. Sudonum says:

    @DeltaPurser:
    So if I’m understanding you correctly, in my instance, the United agent was able to see, via computer, that there was a Delta flight, that might have some availability, but the agent had to actually call Delta and confirm availability and also confirm that Delta would take me for the price I paid United? In the mean time, if someone walked up to the Delta counter at National and bought a ticket for that flight, while I was in the cab on my way to National, Delta could have then bumped me as well?

  19. BugMeNot2 says:

    “Laura’s experience presents the perfect opportunity to clarify once and for all what Rule 240 is and isn’t.”

    I read the whole thing and the comments, and still have no idea what Rule 240 is and isn’t. Just that it apparently doesn’t exist anymore. Helpful!

  20. nequam says:

    @Antediluvian: I had the same reaction. I couldn’t keep the to/froms straight.

    @BugMeNot2: Ditto here.

  21. dualityshift says:

    @Krolls: Stalk much?

  22. Ditto to everything DeltaPurser has said. As a former airline employee working primarily with involuntary re-booking, I do suggest that people ask about rule 240, but it’s not a magic bullet and in most situations it won’t work. This is particularly true during peak travel periods (holidays, summertime, and spring break being prime examples) or weather incidents. Most airlines have a policy of not pursuing rule 240 options when we know that other airlines also have heavy passenger loads, primarily because it can be extremely time consuming and in those situations it rarely produces results. With an entire planeload of passengers (or several, in really ugly situations) waiting to be re-booked you simply can’t realistically spend 20 minutes contacting every other airline on one person’s behalf when you know the odds of finding a better solution are extremely slim. There are some rotten apples who are just too lazy to do their jobs, but generally when an agent doesn’t do something you think they ought to, it’s because they have knowledge you don’t (if two minutes ago the alternative flight you want was overbooked by 10 with 10 more passengers waitlisted, I can tell you it’s pretty much physically impossible for me to give you a guaranteed seat without a single keystroke) or because they want to use their time in the most effective manner to help not just you but all of the other people in line behind you as well.

    Another bit of advice for people in this girl’s situation – your personal situation may seem dire to you, but you have to keep in mind that you’re talking to someone who has heard dozens of peoples’ stories in a very short period of time (for some of us we hear it all day long), and odds are that your situation won’t sound nearly as dire in that context. You may be at risk of missing a test, but someone before you may have been trying to get to the bedside of a loved one who is on the brink of death, or traveling alone with several small screaming children, or trying to make it to their sister’s wedding that they are in. As my supervisor once said, “It’s cruel to say people, but as you’ll soon see, in this business someone is always dying somewhere.” So keep some perspective before you try to play the sympathy card, because unless the situation is truly life-or-death you’re more likely to evoke exasperation than special treatment. That said, please do mention it if something life-or-death is going on, we aren’t heartless! It won’t change the facts (if there are literally no seats available until the next day, that will limit our options for helping you), but most agents really will go to extraordinary lengths to help someone in an extremely tight spot.

  23. Krolls says:

    @Dualityshift: Uhhh perhaps I am a college student who flies into manch often?

    Its called being friendly :-)

  24. Antediluvian says:

    @Krolls: See, that was my first reaction to your comment — maybe a fellow student. Honestly, if that’s stalking, you’re doing it wrong.

  25. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    I fly out of Manchester all the time, and I haven’t seen any evidence that the airport “collapses” during bad weather. What I have seen is that one of the major hubs (Philly, O’Hare, Newark, or Detroit) shuts down and because Manchester is an “off route” airport (in other words, all flights to and from Manchester must go through a “hub” airport), then all the flights in and out of the major hub are also canceled.

    My last experience at Manchester was with United. I had a flight with mechanical problems and Untied spent 7 hours lying to the passengers and jerking them around, so by the time they actually cancelled the flight 7 hours after it was supposed to be in the air, there were slim pickings. To United’s credit, they did rebook me on a flight to Chicago through Delta Express, and although I wasn’t happy to be 12 hours late, I did get there the same day.

    About a month later, I received an apology letter from United and a $100 travel voucher. The voucher is pretty useless now that ticket prices have gone through the roof, but I suppose they made the effort.

  26. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Untied=United

    On second thought, perhaps “Untied” would be a better name for the airline.

  27. kepler11 says:

    A big tip for you all:

    When bad things happen to flights while you’re at the airport, don’t just wait in line. Get on the phone while you wait and call the airline’s reservation line. They can rebook you on different flights over the phone, and you can basically jump in front of everyone standing there in line by asking them to protect your itinerary, offer you other options, and make you better prepared with more information. Then, when you get to the front of the line, if you’re still in limbo, you know what choices you have. Call the other airlines that you’re thinking of taking as alternatives, and see if those are even real options in terms of availability. Know who else flies to where you’re going, and take action! The person who knows to do this first, gets the seat.

    On a more related note, unfortunately as for the original story above, there were a few things working against her. First, she was at a small airport station, where airline agents tend not to be experts in rebooking people and handling crises. There are few mainline flights at Manchester, and the likelihood of her getting useful help in a timely way were low. I believe CO/UA/DL all handle this station as an “express” service, i.e. connections handled by a subsidiary. All the more reason to get on the phone and have the full help of the reservations agents.

    Secondly, she was on an award ticket, which actually should count as a fully “paid” fare, but perhaps in the airline agent’s mind, did not warrant being endorsed over to another airline, although that did sound like a lazy agent. Also, the fact that her ticket was not paid with cash complicates the matter.

    Finally, where the girl went to the other airline’s counter to see if she could get on the flight — there was no chance of that happening anyway. When flying on anything less than a full fare, the original airline that issued the ticket has to first endorse the ticket over to the new carrier for it to be accepted. Airlines will not just accept tickets from other carriers — how do they know they’ll be paid? She basically wasted time waiting in the Delta and United lines, sorry to say. Even if they had told her that there was space, she would’ve had to go back to Continental to get that ticket transfered, which doesn’t sounds like it would’ve happened.

  28. kepler11 says:

    here’s a big tip for you all:

    When bad weather or mechanical delays strike a flight that you’re on, don’t just wait in line at the airport desks to get your flights rebooked. Get on the phone while you’re in line, and call up the airline’s reservation phone number. They have the ability to rebook you, offer you other options, and help you, all while everyone else is standing there doing nothing. Especially at smaller stations, served by “express” subsidiaries of mainline carriers, where the staff is not expert in rebooking or handling crises, you’re basically helping yourself to jump ahead of everyone else in line and save yourself time.

    On the topic of the girl in the story, she unfortunately had three things going against her. First she was flying into/out of poorly served airports, where the choices are few. Combine that with agents at such airports who don’t often handle these things well, and it was bound to have problems. All the more reason to get on the phone and ask for help.

    Second, was her award ticket. These are actually paid tickets, they are not “free”. But it probably complicated it, in the mind of that agent, about whether it could be transfered over to another carrier.

    Finally, she wasted precious time going to wait in line at Delta and United. Even if they had told her that there was space available, they wouldn’t be able to accept her ticket without it having first been endorsed over by the issuing carrier — Continental. Airlines don’t just accept tickets from other carriers — how do they know they’ll be paid? She would’ve had to go back to Continental and that unhelpful agent, to have it endorsed, which doesn’t sound like it would’ve happened anyway. So it’s not like her frustration is warranted — she probably would not have been able to get on those flights even in more ideal circumstances.

    Bottom line, make calls while you wait, and get as much information about your situation as you can. Probably booking herself on Southwest was the best thing she could’ve hoepd for in the circumstances.

  29. kepler11 says:

    sorry, duplicate post there because the comment system appeared to have lost the first one…

  30. @Sudonum: You can only do a rule 240 in a situation where a confirmed seat is available (and most agents will not set up a rule 240 for another agent if they can’t give a specific seat assignment with that confirmed seat, but that isn’t always possible). With a seat assignment there is no way they can bump you off the flight, and since most rule 240s are booked in the highest priority class even without a seat assignment it is highly likely that even if the flight is oversold you’ll get on.

    @BugMeNot2: Rule 240 does exist, it just isn’t legally enforceable, mostly meaning you can’t sue if the agent declines your request for it. Basically it’s an agreement between airlines to accept each others passengers when there are operational problems, so the second airline honors the ticket of the first.

    Most airlines won’t do it in situations out of airline control (weather, air traffic control delays, that kind of thing) unless it’s going to take more than 24 hours to find a new flight for the passenger with the original airline. Some have a policy of 48 hours or longer in these situations, and some jerky agents just refuse to do it at all. If it’s the airlines fault (mechanical problems, crew problems, etc) they usually do it if they can’t rebook you within four hours of your original flight and the new flight(s) get you in no later than an alternative flight on the original airline (i.e. if one flight leaves in four hours but you have to connect and will have a two hour layover resulting in you getting in after another flight leaving in five hours, it isn’t done).

    So in short, you are asking to be put on another airline’s flight, just in more formal terms. The main power in it now is it makes you sound more familiar with airline policies and procedure.

  31. danseuse322 says:

    I teach at a major university and yeah, I would schedule a midterm either right before or after a break–students tend to think class is optional at these times, otherwise, and life happens before and after breaks. HOWEVER, unlike the airlines, if a student got stranded due to a canceled flight and could show me documentation, I would be much more inclined to give her an alternate exam–free of charge. Although I am strict about classes and attendance, I am also a human being. I

  32. uomdeacon says:

    It’s unfortunate that 240 didn’t work for her. The one time I had to use it when UA canceled my flight, I had no problems at all getting them to rebook me on Delta.

  33. Amelie says:

    @euleria: Any teacher who schedules a test on the first day after break is a moron, sadist or both. I want my students to do well!

  34. Islandkiwi says:

    @kepler11:

    Agreed, waiting in line is often the worst thing you can do in this situation, I have the airlines phone number locked into my cell phone just for this reason.

    I always thought Rule 240 only applied if the delay itself was not weather-related, but I guess it differs from airline to airline.

    Here’s a short little article I found about Rule 240 that may prove useful:
    [www.msnbc.msn.com]

  35. Amelie says:

    @danseuse322:Getting students to realize that attendance is not optional on the first day after break, doesn’t have to be dealt with in such a primitive fashion as giving a test. Hopefully you aren’t teaching a class which requires any sort of creative thinking.

  36. Leah says:

    the class I teach (I’m a TA) had a midterm the day after spring break. Yeah, totally not my idea. I had to come back early too, since I normally don’t do anything at school on Monday and was hoping to be away for an extra day.

  37. katylostherart says:

    in all my flights around the country as well, as a couple across the atlantic, i’ve never had any of these problems. i’ve flown on more than a dozen different carriers or their subsidiaries.

    the closest i came i guess was i got to the airport 3 hours ahead of time in vegas but still missed the flight. since american is such a failure at realizing that the same conventions in vegas happen at the same general time every year, as well as being announced within a month of the last one ending, they didn’t book the extra help to compensate for the higher than normal amount of passengers. no other airline in the stretch of the check in gate that i could see had their line backed up the way american did. so despite the 3 hour advanced show up on a domestic flight i missed that one. they bounced me around the country a little bit but i ended up getting home only a few hours after i was originally supposed to. the attendants i dealt with were all really nice to me and i knew it wasn’t their fault but the tards behind the employee scheduling.

    i’m going to burn a buddy holly cd later in hommage to the airplane gods for my good fortune.

  38. UpsetPanda says:

    Midterms right after spring break? Tough cookies! I had a 15 page psychology paper due every spring semester right after spring break. If you wanted to spend your break lounging poolside, that was your prerogative but you better had your paper done. Profs didn’t accept any excuses.

  39. southernflyer says:

    I can say with experience that airlines do not always accept “reward tickets” from other airlines, even in the same alliances as CO and DL in SkyTeam. I have worked in a small outstation for both DL and CO and where UA is also located, and even times where seats were available on the plane, due to it being a “rewards ticket” the other carrier would not accept the ticket. SkyTeam members “should” accept other aiance member rewards tickets in most circumstances, but I have been flatly told “no” when I 1) know there are seats available (although not “reward tickets” class ofervice) and 2) know those seats will be empty when the flight leaves. This happened on an island, where no other transportation other than a boat that night was available, except for the second carrier’s flight.

    In the instance of Continental transferring a “rewards ticket” to United, it is up to United to accept it, but in my experience the rules do not permit it, and it is up to a supervisor to override that rule, if they even can.

  40. VikingP77 says:

    I read this story with much annoyance. I work in corporate travel and it never surprises me how little the airlines are willing to do for their own customers. They hate travel agents and did away with our commissions yet we always seem to have to do their job for them.
    It shouldn’t matter how much you paid or didn’t pay for a ticket, every customers life is important and they should all be treated as VIPs.

  41. Kaix says:

    I wish agents for US airlines were as nice as agents for Int’l airlines. Qantas agents in Australia continue to amaze me with their top-notch service and they’ve always gone the extra mile for me.

    One of the agents actually ran after me after I had left the ticket counter to let me know about a gate change… would this ever happen in the US? no.

  42. euleria says:

    So if you spend $30,000 a year on tuition…and manage to avoid the “cruel” instructors who give exams or collect papers or expect active thinking of their students during the two (!) fluff days after each in-semester break, how much of that $30K have you squandered? If we figure two wasted instructional days per 15 week semester, that’s 2.7% of your class time wasted, or approximately $800 in tuition money.

    In order to give college students what they paid for, sometimes we have to give them experiences they don’t actually want, that aren’t easy and convenient.

    It’s not cruel: it’s conscientious.

  43. overbysara says:

    why don’t they just have “self-serve kiosks” (computers connected to the internet) where people can look for their own flights in these situations where staff are too incompetent to help.

  44. Amelie says:

    @euleria: Who said anything about fluff? No, you have a required, graded activity on that day. But I guess if you have limited teaching skills, creating an activity would be too difficult. Perhaps your comments were also directed elsewhere, but I made no mention of the day before vacation – only the day after.

  45. Amelie says:

    @UpsetPanda: A paper can’t be equated to a test in this case. You have the option of getting the paper done before break, you don’t have the option of taking a test before break.

  46. Fly Girl says:

    Ah, Spring Break. What a terrible time to be a traveler OR an airline employee. Spring Break is, by far, the WORST time of year to try to fly– worse than Christmas, worse than Thanksgiving, worse than the freakin’ apocalypse.

    Why? Because the schools stagger their Spring Breaks. It’s not one super-terrible week, it’s about THREE super terrible weeks of non-stop disgusting. Every flight to everywhere on every airline is not only sold out but OVER sold. Plus, it’s the Springtime– all it takes is one storm, one delay, one cancellation to send everything everywhere on everyone into a death spiral of stupid. And it happens, every year, without fail.

    In this case, both the OP and the airline employees really did everything that they could to resolve this craptastic situation. Better yet, the OP handled herself with class, patience, and maturity– bravo to her!

    I’ve worked for a major airline, I am a travel agent, and I travel a LOT (several times a month), so I fancy myself something of an expert on all things air-travel related. This is the first post on the Consumerist that I’ve ever read where the OP did everything PERFECTLY. Mind you, it still didn’t work out, but that’s not really the point.

    I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that UA/CO/DL were all telling her the 100% God’s honest truth when they said that they couldn’t get her out until Tuesday. When every single flight, on every airline, is sold out to capacity and now you’ve got 150+ passengers that need to be reaccommodated, well, that’s gonna take some fancy math.

    Contrary to popular belief, the airlines don’t just have a stockpile of perfectly good planes sitting in the hangers, ready to go. Plus, you need a flight window, which the FAA controls, and a crew to staff the new flight… Most of the time, adding a new flight is just not an option. So you have to wait until seats become available on regularly scheduled flights. (Sucks, but it’s the reality of the situation…)

  47. Fly Girl says:

    A few notes:

    When you’re traveling on a voucher or a mileage ticket, you CANNOT be Rule 240′d onto another airline– CO issued you a ticket on their airline for “free” so your ticket has no actual face value to any other airline, especially one that is not a “partner” airline (CO & UA are in opposing alliances.)

    If she had been on a regular ticket, and the delay or cancelation was NOT weather related, the airline could have just FIM’d her onto another carrier. Contrary to what Delta Purser said, the customer service agent CAN see availability on all the other airlines and can swap your ticket out and rebook you on another airline, assuming that there is another airline running that routing that still has space available. After the FIM is complete, you would walk over to the new airline’s ticket counter with your itinerary and get checked in like any other paying customer.

    Generally, as a matter of courtesy, the original airline’s ticket agent will call the new airline to make sure that their flight isn’t showing availability when it’s actually oversold and to give them the “heads-up” that more pax are headed their way, but they don’t HAVE to do that. When a FIM is processed, it’s done. Complete. With or without the new airline’s permission, you’ve got a completely valid ticket on them, a ticket that they have to honor.

    A regular ticket can also be “endorsed” (which is what asking for a “Rule 240″ is actually referring to) and offered up to another airline, however that is a far less effective way of doing things– endorsement is kinda old school, a relic of the days of paper tickets. Most new agents won’t even understand what you’re asking of them. It’s not worth the hassle. Just get FIM’d by your ticketing carrier. (Contrary to what Delta Purser said, the FIM is processed by the original carrier and involves completely reissuing your ticket. An endorsement means that the original airline prints your e-tickets to paper, writes “RULE 240″ on them, and then leaves you free to wander the airport all by yourself, begging someone (anyone!) to accept your tickets at face value… Not a very efficient or pleasant way to do things.)

    Consumerist needs to quit telling people to use the term “Rule 240.” Unless the ticketing agent is 50 and has worked for the airline for 25 years, chances are they will have no idea what Rule 240 means. But every single agent will know what a FIM is and what you’re asking for. Using the right terms will go a long ways in getting what you want and are entitled to.

    In addition, if the delay was NOT weather related and they could not accommodate her on another flight for a few days out, she would be entitled to hotel and all meals until she was reaccomodate.

    As far as the recommendation to “call the airline” and not wait in line. Well, that couldn’t hurt but it’s not going to be the most effective way to deal with things. The people with the MOST power and MOST ability to make things happen are the people at the ticket counter at the airport. The people at the reservations call center cannot FIM you onto another airline and usually cannot even accommodate you for something on your original airline if your ticket is already showing “checked in.” (Which most are, since most people check in online the night before they leave.) Unless all you’re hoping to accomplish is to get rebooked on the same airline for a flight later on down the road, you’re not going to get anything done by calling the reservations number.

    Finally, when it comes to Southwest… Southwest is kinda off in a world of its own. The reason no one else offered to put you on those Southwest flights is because Southwest doesn’t show their availability to anyone else, doesn’t allow anyone else to book people on them, and won’t accept Rule 240′s or FIM’s. If they were they only one with the availability and routing to get your to your destination on time, then more power to you and you were right to snatch up a ticket on them. But there’s nothing that any of the agents you talked to could have done to put you on a Southwest flight. (There’s a little bit of danger involved in flying on Southwest because of that– if they cancel a flight, even if it’s totally their fault, they cannot/will not put you on another airline… You just have to wait for another Southwest flight to become available.)

    Since the OP did not use the return portion of her ticket because of a CO cancellation, she is entitled to a refund. Because it is a mileage ticket, she needs to contact the mileage plan desk of CO and request that they put the miles that were unused back in her father’s account, along with issuing a refund for the unused taxes. She should also write a letter to Continentals customer relations department regarding the additional expenses incurred– the parking, the bus, the time, the difference in ticket cost. I wouldn’t expect a check or cash back from them, but if the letter is professional and polite, she’ll probably get a nice voucher good for CO flights.

    As a side note, I’ve never flown on CO or worked for CO but I do know that they’re one of the best airlines in this country– they receive some of the HIGHEST customer service evaluations of the entire domestic airline industry, so I wouldn’t write off flying with them just because of this one (unfortunate but fairly unavoidable) incident.

  48. DeltaPurser says:

    @Sudonum: Well, United wouldn’t tell Delta to send you over if it was that tight. Once they have told you to go over there, then you’re pretty much guaranteed a seat.

  49. DeltaPurser says:

    @Id_LQQK: Sorry you took my comments as “anti-consumerist”… I’m simply telling you how the show is run. I guess you are correct in that the agent didn’t do everything in his power to help her out, but as pointed out by others, it would be impossible to spend 20 minutes on each person who got bumped when you’re talking about 200 people from a full flight.

  50. luz says:

    @Kaix:

    I agree and disagree. Ever flown Mexicana?

  51. Ecoaster says:

    This time of the year (ie. winter), if you HAVE to be somewhere by Monday morning… you DON’T rely on one of the last flights out (especially involving smaller airports) on Sunday night.

    You may have run into a brick wall, but you’re the one who started building that wall.

  52. fever says:

    Dear Carey,
    WTF? Please don’t say things like “rule 240 doesn’t exist”… The fact is, some airlines have a Rule 240 in their Contract of Carriage, and some call it something else. Airlines like Continental have a “Rule 24″, and it is contained in the Contract of Carriage PDF file available from [www.continental.com] While there is little to no recourse outlined in that document, it does exist. Maybe it would have been better to state that “‘Rule 240′ clauses don’t usually mean what we all hope they mean.”?

  53. Gordon2 says:

    When we were coming back from Ireland on Continental, we were told at Shannon airport that our destination (MSP) was closed due to weather, and that we would have to rebook when we got to Newark, as our flight from Newark to MSP was cancelled.

    When we got to Newark, I found a nice out-of-the-way ticket counter, and got to the front in about three minutes. I told the agent I’d like to get to MSP tonight, I didn’t care about how many connections it took, and if the only way was to bump me up to business class, well, I’d sacrifice and accept that.

    The agent laughed. She battled the computer for a while, and finally said she could get me one business seat, but not two; but if I didn’t mind connecting through Cleveland, she could get me to MSP. I told her she was a genius, offered to father her children, and we wound up landing at MSP only 45 minutes later than our original arrangement.

    Continental agents can be fine people.

  54. ElizabethD says:

    I still can’t figure out where this student lives and where she goes to college! Yeah, I know it’s not the point of the post, but clarity is important, people.

    My last best guess is that she lives within striking distance of Manchester NH and goes to Notre Dame. But at first I thought she probably went to school at St. Anselm’s and lived in the Midwest. ?????

  55. Buran says:

    @Kaix: I hope to visit Australia soon. Can you tell me about in-flight? Was it comfy? How was the service?

  56. gnappulicious says:

    the irony of people saying that those who have award tickets shouldn’t expect much is that those award tickets are gained from being a repeat, loyal customer to that airline. airlines should treat those with award tickets just as they would anyone paying a full fare, if not better.

  57. mythago says:

    Exactly – to say that people with award tickets should “expect less” or “get what they pay for” ignores the fact that you earned those tickets. Airlines do not give award tickets because they’re sweethearts. The airlines figure that the profit they will make from your continued business is more than the lost fare from the award ticket. Airlines that treat award-ticket flyers poorly are practicing bad business.

  58. Trojan69 says:

    Elizabeth -I’ll bet a lot she attends St. Mary’s – an all-girl school literally across the street from ND.

    I have flown a ton of times in/out of South Bend. The agents are typically moronic and/or robotic. Once in awhile, someone from the hub happens to be spending the day in SBN and shows the local yokel agents how to do special stuff.

    So, yes, get on the horn. Pronto. The CSR can work up a new itinery in the time you are waiting in line. When you get to the counter, tell the ever-helpful agent to call up the new itinery, print it out, and endorse it.

    Rule 240 was a federal regulation. In return for certain regulatory perks, the legacy airlines (NOT Southwest) agreed to abide by this. For whatever reason, if a pax couldn’t get to his destination on the first airline, that airline was obligated to try hard to find the pax space on competitors. If this could not be done and the pax didn’t get to their destination that day, the fare was refunded. Free trip. Late, but free.

    Today, many tix (carriage contracts) give you similar rights. Many do not.

  59. laura525 says:

    A few clarifications:
    1. I go to ND (NOT St. Mary’s) and live in the greater Boston area
    2. This was simply an e-mail shot off to express frustration. My deepest apologies for not editing it as if it were a graded assignment.
    3. Many exams are scheduled by the department, and the teachers have no control over the date.
    4. I knew I was cutting it close, but I didn’t think my only other option would be a Tuesday return. At the worst I figured that I would be attending Monday’s class with little sleep.

  60. @DeltaPurser: Yeah, I’m arguing with this too — I recently took a United flight that ended up leaving late, which would have made me miss my connecting flight. I walked up to the counter and the agent told me this, researched flights on other airlines right there on her computer, found one with open seats, and handed me a voucher which I simply used as though it was my own ticket. If one airline can do it, the rest can; and moreover, it’s their responsibility to.

    Nice apologetic treatise, in other words, but it doesn’t “fly”.

  61. This situation sucks, but I do have to say that Continental is not generally evil. I pretty much only fly Continental, and I won’t say my experiences have been painless (I don’t think I have had one non-delayed flight in six years), but the customer service people have generally been lovely, as long as they are approached with respect and politeness. They are yelled at all day by otherwise sane people who sound like raving lunatics. I would be grumpy too! The OP did everything right, in my opinion, and it’s shame she wasn’t helped (I don’t know whether she could have been or not, but I wish the agent had gone the extra mile), except for booking her flight home so close to when she needed to be there. In the age of constant delays and cancellations, I try to always book 24 hours or more before I need to be somewhere, because who knows when you’ll be sitting in the airport for six, twelve or twenty hours waiting?

  62. Oh, and, yeah it sucks sometimes to have a test right after break. But it may also have been a gift from the professor, giving students valuable of extra study hours (this is coming from a college student) and removing his/her exam from the general rush surrounding midterm season.

  63. RAREBREED says:

    @Mary Marsala with Fries:

    It may be a United thing then! I had a flight cancellation in Orlando on United a few years ago, and the United employees went so far as to WALK my luggage to the plane (of a different airline), and an employee volunteered to help me rush through security (got to the front of the line, but the carry-on was still checked and all). That was by far the best experience I had ever had on United! It totally outweighed the time where they didn’t have a crew to fly the plane…

  64. Antediluvian says:

    @laura525: I definitely understand trying to stretch the vacation to the absolute maximum, but in the OP you wrote, “I had an exam on Tuesday, and the review was Monday morning. Missing class was NOT an option.”

    If you absolutely couldn’t miss a Monday AM class, you shouldn’t have made your travel arrangements so tight. Lots of other people do that too. That means that all those delays pile up on Sunday and end up delaying the later flights. If you have to be somewhere the next day by a certain time, you should not fly via smaller airports or take the last (or nearly last) flight out. You should take an early flight to avoid the cascading delays airports face.

    Many travellers return home on a Saturday, not Sunday. It gives some wiggle room in case of a problem and it allows for a day of recovery and unpacking. It took me a long time to realize this was actually a better option. It’s counter-intuitive to a thrifty yankee.

    Consider yourself lucky — you only lost a little money and learned this lesson early in life.

  65. LittleBit12 says:

    Laura,

    Why didn’t you get off the bus at the airport and pick your car up at that time rather than take the bus all the way to campus and have to wait another three days to get your car? That would have saved you $30.

  66. laura525 says:

    The bus company runs a direct-to-ND bus during major travel dates for students. This arrived before the one with stops, and I was definitely not going to tempt fate by passing on it.

  67. LittleBit12 says:

    Oh, that’s right, I forgot about that. It’s been awhile since I took United Limo. I usually take the South Shore anyway. In that case, I don’t blame you for taking that bus. I would have done the same. I hope your exam went well. I certainly don’t miss those 8am departmental exams. You’re certainly not the only one I know of who had trouble getting back due to weather.

  68. archpope says:

    This was my first time on this site. A whole article about a rule one can/may invoke to improve air travel, without a single mention of what that rule is. Not even a link to a previous article, despite a mention that it’s mentioned on this site many times. Clearly all of Gawker’s GOOD writers are on Gizmodo and io9.

  69. @I Ain’t Tryin’ a Hear Dat!:

    Some short background before I respond to your insightful comments – my experience was working for Delta, in particular answering the lobby phones (Delta Direct) that are designed specifically for customers who have been disrupted mid-travel. As such I was considered an airport agent but had different powers than an actual counter agent (in some cases more, in some cases less).

    I for one have never heard the term FIM, just rule 240, and all of the other airline agents I talked to seemed perfectly familiar with it. I was told that this meant we would be paying the other airline the cost of a full fare ticket, regardless of the class of ticket originally held by the customer (bulk fares and rewards tickets being the exceptions), and we also had to have guaranteed space on another airline before doing our ‘rule 240′, as well as, as you said, reissuing the ticket. So this obviously wasn’t the type of endorsement that counter agents identify as rule 240s but was rather an FIM, and it’s interesting for me to learn there’s a difference.

    I agree, it usually doesn’t help to call reservations while waiting on line. Like you said, they can’t technically change your ticket once you’ve checked in. They might try to hold you a seat, but your ticket remains unchanged and until that ticket is changed you stand the chance of losing that seat until an actual airport agent can confirm it. And no, there is no one on normal reservations lines that can change your ticket, not even the supervisors. Only an airport agent can do that. The system is pretty much designed to keep too many people in different places from messing with one reservation at once and causing all sorts of problems. Airport agents have information about your flight and other flights out of your airport that reservations agents do not.

    Personally I could see availability on other airlines, but not exact numbers, just more of a general ‘at the time of this update we have this many seats/we don’t have seats’. This information was not instantaneously updated (ranging from minutes old to over a day old), so in a major mess it was far from reliable. As far as I know Delta counter agents see the exact same info. At a time when passenger loads were lower I can imagine that calling to verify accuracy of the information was much less necessary, but with 90-95% loads on a lot of airlines these days there isn’t much wiggle room for numbers inaccurate by even a seat or two. It was generally a gamble unless the situation was our mechanical and only a few people needed to be rebooked to the flight in question due to a missed connection or such, which I imagine is exactly why DeltaPurser characterized it as very limited. As a counter agent you probably have a better sense of what flights on what airlines are generally emptier and a good alternative, but personally I wouldn’t risk a seriously pissed off passenger who still has no flight unless I felt very safe in doing so.

    @Mary Marsala with Fries:

    Your situation sounds like a good candidate for just reissuing your ticket to the other airline, as it was a small number of you who needed the new connecting flight rather than the whole plane (see above for more on that). That doesn’t necessarily mean that the airline had exact seating information for the flight they rebooked you on on the other airline, just that the agent felt that in your case the risk of you ending up without a seat was very minimal. In a lot of cases it won’t be that clear. True, I have never seen the booking system of any airline other than Delta, so I dont know for sure that United has the same dearth of information Delta does, but I can guarantee you one thing – there is no way any airline is getting instantaneously updated seat availability info from another airline without giving the same in return. Hence, if Delta doesn’t have United’s exact info, then United assuredly doesn’t have Delta’s. Sadly, airline computer systems and cooperation are simply not as advanced as people think they are or as they perhaps should be.

  70. halloweenjack says:

    She should have invoked Rule 420, where they have to set you up with a bowl of the kind bud to chill your shit out if you’re unhappy.

  71. Her Grace says:

    @Buran: Qantas economy is like American business. The flight is hellish in and of itself (16 hours from LA to Sydney); if you can get a flight routed through Auckland, do so. It’s a small stop (usually about an hour), and you are hustled off the plane for cleaning and new crew. Yeah, you have to carry your carry-on crap with you, but you’re off the plan for an hour. Totally worth it (and often this route is cheaper than direct). Your seat assignment stays the same.

    Flying from Melbourne to LAX, we had a layover in Auckland. We were fed dinner on the Melbourne to Auckland leg, and then again once in the air out of Auckland. We recieved snacks and water, and a pretty reasonable breakfast. Each seat has its own entertainment unit (unlike, say, United, which still uses communal giant tvs) and the selection was good. The flight attendants are helpful and nice, the plane clean. The seats in economy are still on the small side, but bigger than the AA seats we had in the US. I flew over to Melbourne via United, and the only thing they could have done to make it worse was have us all stand instead of sit cramped up. If you can manage to score an upgrade to business class on Qantas, you have won the lotto.

  72. Her Grace says:

    Oh, forgot to add: yes, Qantas costs about twice as much as United. You get ten times the service and quality. It is WORTH it.

    Look into booking via AA. They are OneWorld with Qantas and your flight will be a Qantas plane and staff. However, they are more flexible about destinations within the US for your return flight, and it will be much cheaper to book a complete AA itinerary if you don’t live near LAX or SFO. If you want to travel within Australia, look at the Qantas multipass–you get to choose a set of destinations for a flat price. If you are already in Honolulu, go with Jetstar: you get business class to Melbourne or Sydney for $500 each way. Jetstar does not fly to the US mainland.