Your Rights When Flights Are Delayed

by Anita Dunham-Potter

This past Monday, my America West flight in Las Vegas was delayed due to a mechanical problem. The delay unfortunately caused me to miss my connection in Phoenix - and the only flight to Cleveland America West offered that day. Since it was a holiday weekend, most planes were flying at capacity, and many flights were oversold. My options were few at best.

Noticing a very long line at the gate counter, I headed for the phone to call America West. I called their 800- reservations number to inquire about my options, and to find out how I would be re-routed. I've previously done the same successfully with many carriers. It certainly beats waiting in line. To my dismay, however, I found out that America West does not re-route passengers via its reservations line. All re-routings must be done at the airport. So I was left with only one option - waiting in line for over 45 minutes to find out my fate.

After my 45-minute wait, the agents in Las Vegas couldn't tell me, or any of the other passengers with connections, about our options. We were told to board the delayed flight to Phoenix, and that the Phoenix agents would handle our situations. Once we reached the customer service desk in Phoenix, things worsened. The agent helping me simply shook her head, saying that flights were oversold and that I'd probably have to get a hotel room.

It was then, for the first time in all my years of flying, that I had to use the term "Rule 240." Once I uttered those two short words, the agent promptly sprung into action. She started to work on finding me flights to either Cleveland or Pittsburgh, my alternate airport. Luckily, she found an open seat on Continental's 1:20 PM non-stop Cleveland.

So what is this all-powerful Rule 240? In short, Rule 240 isn't really a rule - it's a term. It used to be a rule back in the days of governmental airline regulation, but after deregulation in 1978, these rules were no longer enforceable. Most airlines, however, continue to abide by the old rules even though they "technically" don't have to. It's just good business for the airlines to do so.

Simply put, Rule 240 states that an airline must deliver you to your destination within two hours of the originally scheduled flight time. If they cannot, they must put you on another carrier.

Under Rule 240, you are also entitled to a meal voucher, a free phone call, and a lounge pass request. As for my ordeal, I did receive a voucher and use of a phone to call home, but I was not successful on the lounge pass request. I also made sure that my frequent flyer miles would be credited to my America West account.

Remember though - Rule 240 does not apply to weather-related delays: only mechanical delays, or delays that are completely the fault of the airline. You'll want to become familiar with the term "force majeur." A force majeur is any condition beyond the airline's control. These include: weather, acts of God, riots, civil commotion, embargoes, wars, hostilities, disturbances, unsettled international conditions, and any strike, work stoppage, slowdown, lockout or any other labor-related dispute involving or affecting the airline's service, etc.

If you become a victim of a force majeur event, you are unfortunately at the mercy of the airline. Airlines can cancel, terminate, divert, postpone, or delay any flight without notice in these situations. If your flight is affected by a force majeur event, the airline's only obligation is to refund you the price of your ticket, depending on its individual policy and agreements with other carriers. Many airlines will try to accommodate you the best they can, but Rule 240 does not require them to do so in the case of a force majeur.

With record load factors, delays, and skyrocketing consumer complaints, it always works to your advantage to educate yourself on important consumer issues. America West's agents certainly didn't volunteer this information to me. But I knew about rule 240, thankfully, and now so will you.

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