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The Trip Back Home

by Jack Penning

Posted on November 25, 2005 at 9:05 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:46 PM

I hope you've all had a great holiday... and a great time traveling to see your families. Unfortunately, it looks like the trip back home could be somewhat more complicated than what we saw on Wednesday and Thursday.

First, Sunday really is the busiest travel day of the year.

Second, a large part of the country will be mired in less-than-perfect weather. That includes rain in the Midwest, snow in the upper-Midwest and the Rockies, and more rain here in the Northwest. Get ready for delays.

Most flights operate on-time, and for those that don't, most delays are short. A 2005 Senate study found just 25% of domestic flights operated 15-minutes or more behind schedule. The average delay: 52-minutes. Not even an hour.

But, of course, there are those rare occasions where a flight will be delayed for multiple hours. For example, if you see me boarding your flight, plan on a big delay. I have a terrible effect on airline on-time stats, for some reason. Nearly every flight I've been on this year has been severely delayed (3-4 hours).

The question is, if your flight is delayed, what can you do about it? The problem: there are a couple of different answers.

If your delay is caused by the weather (or any other "act of God," for that matter), you really can't do anything about it. The airline isn't responsible for delays that are out of their control. They argue, since they can't control the weather any more than you can, it's not their fault if it delays your flight. So don't expect any kind of compensation. If you're delayed over a meal, you won't get a voucher. And if you're delayed overnight (in most cases), they won't pay for your hotel room.

If your delay is caused by a mechanical problem, you're in a much better position. Maintenance is the airline's responsibility, so if a plane breaks down, it's their fault. And they're required, under a contractual obligation called "Rule 240", to make sure you get to your destination as quickly as possible.


Each airline's "Rule 240" is slightly different. But here's what you can expect if you're being delayed by a mechanical problem:

- The airline is required to put you on the next available flight, even if that flight is on another carrier, at no addtional cost to you. They have to book you on the next flight, even if first class is all that's available. They won't always tell you if another carrier has a flight available, though, so sometimes you have to do the research on your own.

- If you're delayed more than 4-hours, most airlines are required to give you a food voucher for the meal you're missing.

- If you're delayed more than 4-hours, and it's between 10pm and 6am, most airlines are required to furnish a hotel room, at no cost to you.

The airlines know what their responsibilities are under "Rule 240," and more often than not, they'll work with you to make sure they're following the rules, and to make sure you're taken care of. And, again, this rule only applies to delays caused directly by the airline.


There's a great site, developed by a Portland company, where you can figure out the chance your flight will be delayed. It's called

You can try it out at

Here's what I found by doing a couple of test runs on flights at PDX.

Alaska Airlines flight 601, from Las Vegas to Portland, operates late 20% of the time, with an average delay of 30 minutes. The worst delay in the last 2-months was 180-minutes.

Northwest Airlines flight 579, from Minneapolis to Portland, was a little worse. It arrived late 36% of the time, with a high-time delay of 222-minutes.

If you had any interesting travels this holiday, or any good stories to tell, let me know! E-mail me at