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)