In this case, Allegiant actually went beyond its contractual requirements: It covered overnight accommodations and provided tickets and credits, neither required by the contract.
What Allegiant did not do was transfer those travelers to flights on other airlines. Although no other airline's single flight could have accommodated a full planeload of Allegiant travelers, presumably some combination of flights on Horizon and United could have allowed travelers to get home some time the original evening rather than the following noon. Unfortunately, Allegiant's contract does not provide this option, and because Allegiant has no transfer agreements with other lines, it did not offer it.
Rule 240; Alive, but Fading
Before deregulation, the legacy airlines all filed tariffs with a "Rule 240" provision committing them to transfer passengers to another line in the event of such delays. Contrary to popular belief, however, that provision was always just a part of each line's tariff, not a government rule as most of us understand the term.
Some of the legacy lines still retain a few "Rule 240" elements in their contracts. The last time I checked, Alaska, Continental, JetBlue, United, and US Airways still promise to transfer you, but only to another line with which it has a transfer agreement. Delta says it can transfer you, but only at its "sole discretion;" American promises only to get you on one of its own flights.
Southwest and some other low-fare lines have no transfer agreements with other lines and thus promise only to transfer you to a later flight (or give you a refund). With frequent flights on most routes, Southwest's "later flight" promise may be a good bet. On Allegiant, the next flight may not be for three or four days. This is one reason, said a travel agent friend, that her agency does not sell Allegiant tickets, despite the great fares that line offers.
In my comments to the Department of Transportation regarding proposed new air travelers' rights, I recommend universal and mandatory "Rule 240" transfer in the event of cancellations or extended delays. I doubt, however, that will actually happen.
What to Do
The upshot of this case is clear: limited options in the case of delay is one of several risks you take when you fly a smaller, low-fare line. The risk is minimal; such delays are rare. But they do happen, and you have to decide if the great difference in fares justifies that risk.
Ed Perkins is a SmarterTravel contributing editor and a respected commentator on all aspects of the travel industry, including passenger comfort and rights, travel insurance, the best credit cards for travelers, and car rental. This article originally appeared on SmarterTravel