Invoke Rule 240, get yourself arrested

The next time your flight is delayed or canceled, you might want to think twice before whipping out your airline’s contract of carriage and demanding compensation. Airline employees don’t tolerate passengers with attitude — especially those invoking the legendary “Rule 240.”

John Husson counts himself among those who will never say “240 me.” That’s a practice I warned against in my latest MSNBC column, but after hearing his story, I won’t do it either.

Here’s what happened Husson several years ago while flying from Baltimore to Chicago. I think it’s important to mention that this took place just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and everyone was still a little on edge.

There were hundreds of people in lines three across, snaking out the doors and down the road on one end of the terminal, and deep into the international terminal at the other end. We didn’t know it at the time, but Southwest had its holiday party the night before.

At 6 a.m., when the first flight was scheduled to depart, there was one check-in clerk at work. By 7 a.m. there were two check-in clerks and baggage clerk on hand. Flights had left empty, stranding the travelers I now counted myself among.

I won’t go into every horrific experience of that day, but one stands out. A young woman, mid-20s, was trying to get to Chicago for a friend’s wedding. As she stood at the counter, quietly but firmly invoking Rule 240, the ticket clerk motioned for two young Maryland National Guardsmen. With M-16s at the ready, they escorted the young woman out of line and held her at gunpoint — in a corner, away from the crowd — until I lost sight of her half an hour later.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Southwest does not participate in Rule 240. But they do participate in detaining would-be passengers at the business end of automatic military rifles.

Actually, Southwest’s Rule 240, which addresses delays and cancellations, is called Rule 85. You can read its entire contract here.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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