Before airline deregulation in 1978, all airlines in the US had specific steps to take if they needed to cancel a flight or delay one significantly. These steps were called Rule 240, and usually applied when the airline was clearly responsible for the delay. In general, canceled flights due to bad weather or events outside of the airline’s control did not fall under this rule, though many airlines worked with people who held tickets to get them a seat on another plane or help provide accommodations for them so they could fly out the next day.
Since deregulation, most airlines have retained a Rule 240, but this can differ with each airline. The wise traveler needs to be aware of his/her rights under any airline’s interpretation of the rule, since it is not an uncommon thing for flights to be delayed or canceled through a mishap or problem with the airline. When you plan to fly, take along a copy of any airline’s rule 240. Ticketing agents may not always be aware of protections for the consumer. If you carry the “rules” with you, then you can inform such agents of your rights, and of the airline’s responsibilities.
Note that Rule 240 will differ with each airline. Many airlines will cover the following:
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- Full refund of your ticket price if your flight is canceled
- Booking on another flight, often with the same airline, without additional charge — even if that flight arrives sooner than your previously schedule flight, or if the only seats remaining are first class
- Booking on a flight from another airline to get you to your intended destination without additional charge
The more generous interpretations of Rule 240 will also cover meal vouchers for the airport if you will be delayed for a long period of time. Others will provide complimentary hotel stays if you must wait overnight to take a flight that isn’t canceled. Don’t bank on these last two rights unless your Rule 240 for that specific airline has these steps in place. Additionally, if you’re flying from your home city, Rule 240 frequently won’t provide meal compensation or hotel stays because you can merely return home. Also note that in almost every case, the only measure an airline may take when the delay or flight cancellation is not their fault is to refund your ticket.
When you book a flight, or even before you book, make certain that you get a current copy of Rule 240. These rules can be subject to change. You may also want to look for the most liberal interpretations of the rule if you’re traveling a long distance or the airline has a history of delays. Keep a copy of the rule with you; a good place to keep it is with your other travel documents. If you’re flying on several different airlines, keep a copy of each different policy, since all may be slightly different. Knowing what your rights are and being able to easily inform agents of these rights with a copy of the rules may make for easier traveling should delays occur.