Have a question about travel or airfares? We answer as many as we can, either by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or in our Q&A column
Q: What is the Department of Transportation policy governing airline delays due to mechanical failure? We were stuck at the New Orleans airport for more than 10 hours when our plane had an engine problem and would like compensation.
A: There is no D.O.T. rule concerning compensation when an airline experiences a mechanical problem. There used to be a D.O.T. rule called Rule 240 that required airlines to put you on another airline's flight in such circumstances, if that airline would get you to your destination sooner than your original airline. (But see the next question.) Airlines often will provide some compensation, usually in the form of a travel voucher or frequent flyer miles, in such cases. It doesn't hurt to ask.
Q: Does any airline still have a Rule 240?
A: Rule 240 was a clause in airline contracts of carriage back when airlines were regulated by a government agency. It stated that, except in cases of "force majeure" (i.e., an act of God such as severe weather), airlines had to offer you any available seat on a competitor's next flight out in the event that your original flight was canceled or severely delayed. Airlines formed after deregulation, such as Virgin America and JetBlue, never had a Rule 240, but most "legacy" carriers (American, Delta, US Airways, United, Continental, Eastern, etc.) did.
Of the remaining airlines, only United and Alaska still have language similar to Rule 240 in their contracts. United now calls it Rule 24, and Alaska calls it rule 240AS. The only problem these days is that with so many airlines operating virtual monopolies at some airports, and flights being so full, there is often no alternative seat available on other airlines. To see links to the airlines' contract of carriages, click here.