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March 9, 2020, 10:21 a.m. EDT

As coronavirus spreads, Frontier Airlines passengers cry foul over cancellation fees — the airline calls it a ‘communications disconnect’

Passengers were told they would have to pay change fees after the airline said it was waiving the charges

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By Jacob Passy


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Passengers thought Frontier Airlines had rescinded its policy of waiving flight-change fees in light of the coronavirus outbreak — but that was a misunderstanding, the airline says.

Frontier Airlines said Sunday that despite complaints from customers who said they were being charged fees to change or cancel flights, it will honor a pledge to waive those fees due to COVID-19.

Some passengers looking to change or cancel Frontier flights because of concerns about the coronavirus epidemic thought they would be on the hook for cancellation fees. The airline, which is owned by private-equity firm Indigo Partners, seemed to have rescinded a previously announced policy of waiving some flight-change and cancellation fees amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Frontier had told MarketWatch last week that customers with existing reservations between March 3 and 16 would be allowed to change their flights or cancel them for a flight credit valid for 90 days, free of charge. Major airlines including American /zigman2/quotes/209207041/composite AAL -1.34% , United /zigman2/quotes/205037281/composite UAL -1.03% and Delta /zigman2/quotes/200327741/composite DAL -1.86% have enacted similar policies recently as coronavirus has spread.

A spokeswoman for Frontier apologized “for any inconvenience or distress” the situation caused customers and encouraged them to follow up with the airline.

“Over the weekend, there was a communications disconnect that caused call center personnel to advise customers that the fee waivers were no longer available,” the spokeswoman told MarketWatch via email. “We have identified and clarified the guidance and continue to offer fee waivers for travel through March 16 regardless of when customers originally booked.”

Martin Semeraro, 36, called Frontier Airlines on Saturday to cancel round-trip tickets for him, his wife and their three kids. The Rhode Island family was planning to take their annual trip to Naples, Fla., to visit Semeraro’s parents, who live in a retirement community there, but decided to cancel their trip. His parents had expressed concern about the coronavirus, and the risk of it spreading.

Here is what the customers said on Twitter  about the fees:

When Semararo managed to speak with a Frontier customer-service representative, he was told he’d have to pay ancellation fees, he said. “He put me on hold for a few minutes and then came back on and said, ‘All right, it’s going to be $119 a ticket to cancel your ticket,’” Semeraro, who works in information technology for an insurance company, said.

MarketWatch also called the airline’s customer support hotline and was told by a customer-service representative that the airline was charging fees for changing or cancelling flights.

Usually, if a customer changes flights on Frontier, they are subject to differences in fare. In the case of cancellations, customers receive a travel credit that they must use within 90 days. Sixty days or more before departure, changes are free.

Frontier Airlines typically charges $119 per ticket to cancel or change a flight 13 or fewer days prior to departure. Between 14 and 59 days before departure, passengers must pay $79 (or $49 if the ticket was purchased before Sept. 13, 2019) to change or to cancel. Customers can get a fully refundable ticket on Frontier by purchasing the airline’s “the works” bundle with their ticket.

Semararo said his family would wait a few more days before paying the fees, in the hopes that Frontier would clarify the policy. He said the experience has made him hesitant about booking a flight with the low-cost carrier in the future. “I have a certain expectation with how they treat their customers and how they manage their customer service, and they’ve definitely failed on this one big time,” he told MarketWatch earlier Sunday.

Worldwide, there were 110,588 COVID-19 cases and 3,841 deaths as of Monday morning; 62,109 people worldwide have recovered, according to data published by the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering. In the U.S., 22 people have died, and there are approximately 564 confirmed cases, Johns Hopkins added.

(This story was updated with a response from Frontier Airlines.)

/zigman2/quotes/209207041/composite
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$ 11.77
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Volume: 49.16M
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$6.07 billion
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$345,547
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/zigman2/quotes/205037281/composite
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 32.74
-0.34 -1.03%
Volume: 24.64M
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P/E Ratio
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Market Cap
$9.63 billion
Rev. per Employee
$448,946
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/zigman2/quotes/200327741/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 29.01
-0.55 -1.86%
Volume: 22.26M
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P/E Ratio
N/A
Dividend Yield
0.00%
Market Cap
$18.86 billion
Rev. per Employee
$499,337
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Jacob Passy is a personal-finance reporter for MarketWatch and is based in New York.

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