The so-called “flat-tire rule” that allows airlines to rebook passengers who are delayed for reasons beyond their control went flat last year. But now there’s evidence that the proverbial wheels have come off this plane.
Travel agent Richard Kenner had two clients who recently tried to invoke the rule when they missed a flight at JFK because their taxi driver was confused about which terminal they were flying out of.
Delta refused to do anything other than treat this as a voluntary change and I got nowhere on the phone with them. Has there been a change here?
Well, it turns out Kenner follows airline contracts closer than I do. (I have links to the full contracts here.) After some digging, he determined that a small but significant change had taken place in airline policies regarding missed flights.
Before 9/11, when the flat-tire rule was in effect, most airlines had a policy that they would reschedule you on the next flight if you were late for reasons beyond your control.
Between 2001 and 2007, the policy was more amorphous. Which is to say, the airlines quietly did away with the flat-tire rule without necessarily informing their passengers. And they allowed for some exceptions.
This year, airlines for the first time codified their refusal to rebook tardy passengers.
For example, here’s Delta’s Rule 135 governing cancellation of reservations. Check out paragraph C, subparagraph 3.
Passengers must arrive at the airport sufficiently in advance of a flight departure time (generally, not less than 2 hours) to permit completion of government requirements, security procedures, and departure processing.
Departures will not be delayed for passengers who are improperly documented, or have not completed all security processing, or have not met the carrier’s check-in requirements. Delta is not liable to the passenger for loss or expense due to the passenger’s failure to comply with this provision.
Paragraph D says Delta is not liable when it cancels the reservation of any passenger in accordance with this rule, but and (2) of it says:
If such reservation was canceled pursuant to other paragraphs of this rule, Delta will refund in accordance with Rule 270 (Voluntary Refunds).
“I’m fairly sure that older versions of the document didn’t go that far out of the way to disclaim responsibility for missed flights,” says Kenner.
Ditto for Continental, which just revised its contract in May. This is from Rule 5, section D, of its contract.
It is the Passenger’s responsibility to arrive at the airport with enough time to complete the security screening process and to comply with these CO minimum time limits.
Doing away with the “flat-tire” rule may be good for an airline’s bottom line, but I think it’s morally wrong.
Passengers cut airlines all kinds of slack for circumstances beyond their control, including weather and air traffic control delays. These provisions are even written into the airline contracts.
Shouldn’t airlines extend the same courtesy to their customers? Or have we really become, in the parlance of flight attendants, nothing more than “self-loading freight”?