Rule 240 (US)
Rule 240 (US) A helpful, insider's tip
Before the deregulation of the U.S. airline industry in 1978, every U.S. airline had to follow the same set of rules — including those dealing with "irregularities" such as canceled flights.
In those days, airline fares and routes were regulated by the Federal government.
One of these rules, number 240, specified that if an airline couldn't get you to your destination on time, it was required to put you on a competitor's flight if it would get you there faster than your original airline's next flight. Airlines were even required to put you in first class if that's all that was available.
Airlines rarely advertised this perk since theynaturally didn't want to fork over scarce cash to fly customers on a rival carrier. But seasoned road warriors have always known they could approach the ticket counter and say the magic words "240 me" to be put on the next flight out.
Airlines formed after deregulation — such as JetBlue, Southwest, and Spirit — were never required to follow these rules. Even so, some of these newer airlines may attempt to put you on another airline if there's no other choice.
There seems to be a fierce debate among airline and airfare pundits as to whether Rule 240 actually exists today, with some vehemently insisting that it’s a “myth” while others swear that it’s real. That being said, in recent years, as "legacy" carriers such as American, United, and Delta have struggled to remain profitable, and some have slashed costs to emerge from bankruptcy, many have quietly weakened their Rule 240s.
United Airlines, for instance, no longer states in its contract of carriage that it will fly you in first class on a competitor, if that's all that's available, although it will transport you in coach class on another airline.
Although Delta Air Lines still has a Rule 240 in its contract, it no longer makes any mention of transporting passengers on other airlines in the event of a flight disruption.
Continental Airlines will upgrade a delayed passenger to first class only on its own flights — not on a competitor's — and only if doing so will get you to your destination earlier than would otherwise be the case.
US Airways has nothing in its terms of transportation concerning Rule 240, though a spokesperson says the airline still applies the rule on all but international flights.
Northwest Airlines still has a very traditional contract, little changed from the days of regulation. It will put you on another airline, in first class if necessary, if your original flight is delayed 60 minutes or longer.
Alaska Airlines also has a very clearly stated Rule 240 in its contract.
It's important to emphasize that these rules generally apply to situations within the airline's control, such as mechanical problems. But if the flight irregularity results from a "force majeure event" such as bad weather, a riot, or a work stoppage, then all bets are off. And the legacy carriers may not have agreements with their newer competitors such as JetBlue and Southwest, so that they might not re-route you on those carriers.
Even if you are flying an airline that adheres to Rule 240, its employees may be reluctant to rewrite your ticket on a competitor because of the financial implications of doing so. So it pays to print out and carry a copy of the contract of carriage and present it to the gate agent if necessary.