4 Facts About Rule 240

Last week, travel consumer advocate Christopher Elliott listed four secrets about rule 240—that borderline mythic rule that describes how an airline will behave regarding a canceled or delayed flight—that he says are too often overlooked by travel experts and regular folk:”It’s hardly an all-powerful provision that can be invoked by every stranded passenger. Somewhere between myth and a magic bullet lies the truth about Rule 240.”

1. “Every airline has a rule ‘240’ — but not every airline calls it Rule 240”
Elliott points out that depending on the contract, the section that describes any conditions of carriage can go by other names or numbers. He suggests printing the full contract before you travel, and if you have to talk about rule 240, don’t call it “Rule 240″—”Instead, politely refer to your contract of carriage or conditions of carriage if you need to argue for compensation.”

2. “Rule 240 is just one part of a contract that you really ought to read”
There are other rights you may have that the contract spells out, but that the airline will never mention. It actually helps them if you are simply obsessed with Rule 240.

3. “Rule 240 is subject to change without notice”
Don’t assume things haven’t changed since your last flight.

4. “A better name for Rule 240 is ‘Customers Last'”
A lot of people think rule 240 is part of the industry’s “Customers First” program to improve customer service, but it’s not: “‘Customer First’ is what the airlines promise (but don’t do) while Rule 240 is what the airlines must do (but often don’t). It is really the ‘Customers Last’ clause. (Check out his full post for interesting background information on “Customers First” and how the airline industry has failed to honor it over the years.)

To summarize: read the effin’ contract. Read it all, maybe highlight the parts about your rights, and carry it with you when you travel.

“Myth or magic bullet? 4 secrets about Rule 240” [Elliott.org]

“Don’t Fly Without A Copy Of Rule 240”
(Photo: jjvaca)


Edit Your Comment

  1. dlynch says:

    this is excellent advice, but who’s going to follow it? you know who reads things like the contract of carriage? lawyers. and law students. that’s about it.

  2. UnStatusTheQuo says:

    @dlynch: Yeah I am one and can’t say I’ve ever read it. Point well taken, though.

  3. humphrmi says:

    I generally agree with the article, but I thought Rule 240 was done away with in deregulation. So yeah, fine, read the conditions of carriage, but why does he keep referring to Rule 240 as if it actually exists? (“A lot of people think rule 240 is part of the industry’s “Customers First” program to improve customer service, but it’s not: “‘Customer First’ is what the airlines promise (but don’t do) while Rule 240 is what the airlines must do (but often don’t)”).

    So what is it, is Rule 240 gone or does it still exist?

  4. We11spring says:

    @humphrmi: I know it still works for NWA, I just used it 3 weeks ago in fact. They had canceled one of my short flights, probably due to a lack of passengers. I called up their customer service and asked if they still abide by Rule 240. The CS rep didn’t even ask any further questions, and proceeded to book me on a Delta flight instead. I’m thinking it was because the cancellation wasn’t due to weather. It was actually incredibly easy and painless. It’s too bad NWA canceled my flight, but the CS rep really helped out the situation by handling my request well.

  5. raehtz10 says:

    I was flying on United from DTW through ORD on the way to DSM. There were delays through ORD and I just politely asked if there was anything they could do to help so I didn’t miss my connection. She checked the schedule, saw NWA had a direct flight, and then called over. 5 minutes later and I was on my way to the NWA gate.

    Same thing happened on my way back home. Traffic delays in Chicago had actually delayed the two previous flights and there was no way I was leaving on time. I asked the gate agent for help and she said she could rebook me in the morning for United. I asked about other airlines, and lo and behold I was walking over to NWA for my return flight as well.

    I was very happy that I didn’t have to get pissy, and everyone was very helpful. I have nothing but good things to say about how both airlines handled the situation.

  6. dweebster says:

    @raehtz10: It’s amazing how well things can turn out when companies and their workers just do what they are supposed to do during inconvenient situations instead of using it to work out their personal feelings of inferiority by messing with you.

    Both of these customers will fly those airlines again. But I’ve experienced and heard horror stories in the other direction from all sorts of industries. No amount of television advertising and newspaper inserts will heal the damage done by an employee exhibiting a Napoleon complex at the customer’s expense.

  7. rdldr1 says:

    For a minute I thought Consumerist was talking about the 420 rule.

  8. Fly Girl says:

    “FIM” is really the magic word if you’re looking to get re-booked on a different airline because of a cancellation or delay. “FIM” stands for Flight Interruption Manifest and that’s what it is called when the airline turns your ticket from San Francisco to Chicago on United into a ticket from San Francisco to Chicago on American at their expense. Simply walk up to the Customer Service Center and calmly, and confidently, request that you be FIM’d onto the next available flight to your destination because of the delay/cancellation. So long as the delay/cancellation isn’t because of something out of the airline’s control (ATC issues, weather, etc…) the agent should promptly reissue your ticket and book you on the next available flight. Using an industry term like FIM is going to show the agent that your either a fellow airline employee (and they all scratch each other’s backs) or a frequent, savvy traveler. Either way, it’ll work in your favor. FIM… It’s your new best friend.

  9. Neurotic1 says:

    Dude, this guy really needs to stop spreading misinformation on the net. He can start by doing a little research. If he did, he’ll realize that “Rule 240” is not really a rule nor a law. Rule 240 was held over from the days of regulation. Today, it’s purely voluntary. More of a courtesy than a rule. No gov. agency enforces it. Further, airlines must have recipricol agreements in place. Some airlines don’t have recipricol agreements with others. For example, Southwest doesn’t have recipricol agreements with other carriers; they don’t show their reservations on other systems; they don’t transfer bags, etc.

  10. weakdome says:

    The first rule of 240 is that you do not talk about 240

  11. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    So there is no “rule” and no government oversight to protect customers from airlines…but we can pay (through the gov’t) to bail the airlines out of each and every financial jam they end up in.
    Does that seem a bit…ODD…to anyone else?

  12. TangDrinker says:

    I’m glad to see Chris Elliott has moved on to more serious pursuits after that stint as a paper boy. It looks like Handsome Boy Modeling School really paid off.

  13. finite_elephant says:

    @dlynch: I read the conditions/contract of carriage, but I’m an engineer.

    Aside from spelling out what the airline will do for you in the case of a cancellation or delay, it also spells out what the airline will do for you if your travel plans change due to death or illness and what documentation they may expect you to provide in such a case. It’s useful stuff to know.

  14. MissPeacock says:

    When my flight was delayed out of Chicago last year, someone asked the gate attendant if he could be booked on another airline. The attendant said she didn’t have access to other airline’s flight information. Is that really true? If so, I don’t see how this Rule 240 could possibly work for someone. I’ve read so many different things online about this rule that it’s just confusing.

  15. ARP says:

    @ainttryinaheardat: I agree. It’s surprising what you can accomplish if you can learn the “lingo” because as you say, they are either an employee or a frequent enough traveler that they want (or want to keep) your business. Think of it in other situations, a car dealership, computer repair shop, etc. change their attitude once they realize you know what you’re talking about. So to combine these threads, read the agreement and then as you travel, try to learn the meanings of the acronyms, phrases, etc. that they use. If you’re very polite, they might even tell you what it means when asked.

  16. copious28 says:

    @Neurotic1: There may or may not be a “Rule 240” per se, but there is a contract. It is formed when you agree to the rules/regulations provided by the carrier by buying a ticket. Contracts are very much valid and can be enforced with law. That was directly the point he made about reading the contract.

  17. Pasketti says:

    I thought it was Rule 34 for a second.

    I need more coffee.


  18. moore850 says:

    The line in this article that probably applies here at consumerist is: “Civility often counts for more than being right.” Always consider if politeness will get you what you want before resorting to a new york city-style verbal response.

  19. GenXCub says:


    Rule 34, in this case states that there is Pr0n out there for people who get hot and bothered by airline customer service contracts.

  20. Canoehead says:

    United was great with one of these – my flight from La Guardia through Chicago to Vancovuer was cancelled because of weather – they pulled out my luggage and booked me on a direct Cathay flight out of JFK. They paid for the taxi out of the other airport and dinner because of the delay. The Airlines can still be good, but sometimes you really end up with a jerk CSR – fortunately not in this case.

    Also, just a shout-out to all the Cathay ticketing folks at JFK – those gals and guys have helped out my family a ton over the years.

  21. rsbryswrrl says:

    If you really want a laugh, you should check out the Contract of Carriage for one of the discount airlines. I’m a travel agent and booked two tickets for a friend on Airtran a few months ago, and her plane sat on the runway for 3 hours before they got everyone off the place and told them they were putting them on a different plane. Her original departure time was 7 AM and she didn’t actually leave until 2 PM. She emailed me from her Blackberry while she was on the plane asking if there was anything I could do. Unfortunately, the discount airlines’ contracts of carriage basically say “we’ll get you somewhere in the vicinity of where you want to go, at whatever time we can get you there and you have no recourse whatsoever”.

  22. silverpie says:

    Before deregulation, when the rules were standardized, it was Rule 240. Many airlines still follow the numbering of those old days, but others do not. (For example, on US, it’s part of Section IX, and I think Southwest’s version is Rule 85.)