Amid virus fears, U.S. airlines shrink flights, waive change fees

By: - March 3, 2020 3:14 pm

Tampa International Airport and others in Florida had been screening arriving passengers for the new coronavirus. Credit: Tampa Airport website

The three largest airlines in the United States are waiving flight-change policies on certain international flights because of COVID-19, caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus.

American, Delta and, most recently, United airlines have announced change-fee waivers for designated flights, after suspending flights to numerous cities in Asia and Italy.

On Thursday, the International Air Transport Association announced its forecast that global revenue losses in passenger business will be around $63 billion, or as high as $113 billion if conditions worsen more than expected.

Regarding domestic travel, American and JetBlue airlines report on their websites that they are offering travel waivers for flights within this country, although no U.S. cities have been subject to travel restrictions at the time of this report. Southwest does not charge fees for changes or cancellation.

The international flight cancellations and other policy changes affect airports across the country, including Tampa International Airport. A Hillsborough County woman who state officials say contracted coronavirus “flew through Tampa International Airport” after traveling to northern Italy, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

U.S. airports have not closed, but they are bolstering hygiene and disinfection protocols for staff and equipment on planes. Airport authorities also are in touch with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as the coronavirus — which causes a respiratory disease that can be fatal — expands around the world, including in the United States.

At issue is whether travelers may want to forgo destinations where the coronavirus has taken root, in both foreign countries or in the United States.

At least 12 states with some of the largest airports in the nation now have coronavirus cases, according to the CDC. They are: Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Wisconsin, Illinois, Georgia, Florida, New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

“We have adjusted travel schedules, waived change fees for affected [international] destinations and are working with customers to adjust travel plans, using relationships with other airlines when needed,” Delta said Tuesday on its online news hub.

Delta flights to Shanghai and Beijing were suspended until April 30, and flights to Seoul, South Korea, were reduced due to warnings for passengers to avoid nonessential travel.

Now, Delta flights from New York to Milan and Venice, in Italy, are suspended until May.

Delta’s new policy allows passengers to make one-time changes to travel plans with no change fees for intended travel through April 30 to Shanghai, Beijing, Seoul, and all locations in Italy, including Bologna, Milan, Rome, Turin and Venice.

Passengers coming to the United States who have recently visited Iran or mainland China must first be screened at one of several screening airports, which include New York, Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth.

United Airlines suspended flights between the U.S. and Beijing, Chengdu, Hong Kong and Shanghai through April 30, and it is limiting service to Tokyo Narita, Osaka, Singapore, Seoul and northern Italy.

United is now waiving flight-change fees and allowing refunds in some cases, including for nonrefundable tickets.

“To give customers flexibility, we’re waiving change fees or allowing refunds for travel to or from select cities,” United announced on its website Tuesday under important notices.

United is allowing passengers to reschedule flights at no additional cost for tickets purchased by Feb. 23 to northern Italy, including airports in Bologna, Genoa, Milan, Trieste, Turin, Venice and Verona. Wholly rescheduled travel may still be subject to a difference in fare.

American was the first to provide such considerations for rescheduled or canceled flights – policies it announced Sunday in response to the spread of COVID-19. It also is inviting passengers to book flights by March 16 without the risk of paying fees if they change their plans.

Italian cities where American Airlines flight-change fees may be waived include Naples and Pisa, in addition to the cities already mentioned.

Policy details are subject to frequent updates. For the latest, visit the airlines’ websites.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper. Contact her at [email protected]