Longer-in-the-tooth fliers (which means most of us) will remember the good old days of flying when we had two comforting safety mechanisms in the event of anything interfering with the flights we were booked to travel on, causing us to not be able to get to our destination in more or less the time frame we were anticipating, on the airline we had booked with.
The first of these was a hangover from the days of airline regulation – the so called ‘Rule 240’, which obliged airlines to transfer passengers to other airlines if the other airline could get the passengers to their destination more quickly than alternate arrangements on the original airline would do. In its simplest form, the airline with the problem would simply handwrite ‘Rule 240’ on your ticket (remember the old paper tickets with red carbon copies?) with a Sharpie marker, and tell you which airline had the best alternate flights to take. The other airline would accept your ticket without comment or complaint.
The second of these is another blast from the past, another memory of the ‘good old days’. A decade or two back, most flights operated at little more than 50% loads, so if a flight was cancelled, there was enough excess capacity to quickly soak up the passengers from the cancelled flight and get them on to their destination.
But since deregulation, the airlines have slowly been removing their now self-imposed obligations to offer a Rule 240 type replacement and it is almost non-existent now. You’ll still find stupid lists of ‘travel tips’ telling you that merely uttering the words ‘Rule 240’ will cause miraculous events to occur at any airline podium, anywhere in the world, but the chances are that these days your invocation of Rule 240 will either bring a puzzled look from a recent hire who has no idea what you’re talking about, or a smirk from a longer serving employee who marvels at your cluelessness.
You certainly should know what your airline is willing to do, as per its conditions of carriage, and you certainly should try and sweet-talk your way into getting not just the bare minimum but some of the additional discretionary extras that gate agents can dish out if they choose to, but if you smugly say ‘Rule 240 says you must ….’ then you’ll be very disappointed.
The other big change is that most airlines are now flying with 80% and higher loads. So instead of the passengers off a cancelled flight being able to all fit on the next flight out, it could take four or five subsequent flights and increasingly ‘imaginative’ routings to get you from where you are to where you want to be, just because, no matter what the rules might say, there simply aren’t any spare seats available.
The airlines have however continued to extend reciprocal agreements on the basis of ‘what goes round, comes round’; so that if an airline has a problem with a flight, they can pass their people over to another airline, often with no money changing hands at all, or otherwise, a pre-determined and discounted payment being made from one airline to the other. This helps all the airlines, because they end up with fewer operational problems and easier solutions by being able to access spare seats not just on their flights but on their competitors flights, too. Imagine if you’re flying from a city on Airline A and it only operates two flights a day – if they don’t/won’t/can’t put you on Airline B or C, you might end up spending two or three days waiting until Airline A next has an available seat for you.
But if an airline feels it is being taken advantage of by one of its ‘competitors’, the situation becomes more precarious. Because, remember, it isn’t anything to do with the airlines fraternally joining together to help ensure the best possible flight experience for the maximum possible number of travelers, in the belief that good travel experiences in general encourages all passengers to fly more, on all airlines. Oh, no. Instead, the airlines would much rather ‘punish’ passengers for flying on an alternate airline, and if that means that, in turn, some of their own passengers will also be punished by the loss of reciprocity with another airline, so be it – perhaps that is acceptable collateral damage.
An example of that played out this week, when American and Delta stopped playing nice, and both have stormed off to their respective corners, after cancelling the reciprocity agreement between them.
That’s not to say that you might not still be able to get one of the two airlines to endorse your ticket over to the other, but it does mean that it will be a bigger favor to ask, and the lower your ticket originally cost, and the less status you have with the airline, the less likely you are to get your ticket switched over. So, for many of us, there’ll be nothing we can do about it except get comfortable at the airport, and pick out a three or four seat row of seats to sleep overnight on if necessary.
Reproduced by permission from http://blog.thetravelinsider.info/2015/09/weekly-roundup-friday-11-september-2015.html.