By Jacob Passy
Travelers are changing their flight plans as the COVID-19 outbreak spreads, and many airlines are helping them in the process.
In recent weeks, airlines have cancelled hundreds of flights to East Asia and, more recently, much of Italy, as the number of coronavirus cases grew in those regions. Airline CEOs have said they will forgo salaries, as travel companies face major disruptions to their business.
Worldwide, there were 124,578 COVID-19 cases and at least 4,584 deaths as of Wednesday. At least eight countries, include the U.S., France and Germany, have 1,000 or more cases.
The World Health Organization declared Wednesday that the coronavirus represented a pandemic. Concerns about the spread of the virus has led to the cancellation or postponement of major events worldwide.
With public health officials in many countries advising caution against traveling to regions with high numbers of coronavirus cases, airlines have stepped in to offer waivers for fees and fare differences for travelers who reschedule flights because of health concerns.
Here is what the airlines are doing:
For new bookings made between March 10 and March 31, customers can make a one-time change to their travel plans without incurring a fee. If the new flight costs more, the customer will be responsible for the fare difference. Customers can make the change by calling Frontier’s hotline.
Customers with existing reservations for travel through April 30 will also be able to make a one-time change to their reservation without incurring a fee.
The new travel must be completed by Nov. 9, and changes must be made at least 24 hours before the original flight’s scheduled departure time. Customers have the option of changing the origin and/or destination city when they alter their reservation.
People who want to cancel their reservation will be able to do so without paying a cancellation fee and will receive a refund in the form of a credit valid for 90 days. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the airline already had a policy in place that stipulated no change fees apply if the changes were made 60 days or more before the departure.
A miscommunication among staff at Frontier over the weekend led to call-center personnel mistakenly informing customers that the waivers weren’t available, causing frustration among people who were attempting to cancel their flights because of coronavirus concerns.
For people who book flights between March 1 and March 16, American Airlines /zigman2/quotes/209207041/composite AAL -2.95% will not charge a change fee if they alter their travel plans. To be eligible, the original travel must be scheduled for between March 1, 2020 and January 26, 2021, and the change must be made at least 14 days in advance of the outbound travel date.
The new travel will need to take place within a year of the original ticket issue date, and travelers must pay for any difference in fares. The fee waiver excludes bookings through AAdvantage award tickets.
Additionally, for people who had plans to fly to Hong Kong or China, refunds are available if cancellations are made before the flight’s departure date and the ticket was issued by American Airlines.
JetBlue /zigman2/quotes/207639051/composite JBLU -4.01% has suspended change and cancellations fees for all bookings for flights scheduled through April 30, 2020. Where applicable, customers will need to pay for differences in airfare. Flights had to be booked on or before March 10 to be eligible.
Those who change or cancel flights will receive a credit worth the amount of the flight fair plus taxes and fees that is valid for one year from the date of issuance toward a JetBlue flight.
Alaska Airlines /zigman2/quotes/200972303/composite ALK -2.18% is offering a so-called “peace of mind” waiver . Those who purchased tickets between Feb. 27 and March 31 and those who were set to travel through March 31 will be able to cancel or change their trips, free of charge.
Those who choose to cancel their flight will have their funds deposited into an Alaska account for use for future travel. Those who choose to rebook their travel must set a new travel date that occurs before Feb. 28, 2021, and fare differences do apply.
This option is only available for people who booked directly with Alaska — those who booked flights through third parties such as Expedia /zigman2/quotes/202291990/composite EXPE -2.33% will need to amend their travel plans through the company that sold the ticket.
United Airlines /zigman2/quotes/205037281/composite UAL -4.34% is waiving flight change fees for all tickets issued on or before March 2 for travel through April 30. The new ticket must be reissued by Dec. 31, and rebooked travel must commence within 12 months of the original ticket issue date.
For those who book flights between March 3 and March 31, flight changes are free for the next 12 months.
Previously, the airline announced it was waiving the change fee and fare difference for travelers who book new flights to airports in Northern Italy, China, Hong Kong and South Korea through June 30, though the new airfare had to be in the same ticketing class as the original booking.
For those who are rescheduling previously-booked travel, fare differences may apply. United is also offering refunds for flights booked to China, even for tickets that were originally nonrefundable.
Delta Air Lines
Delta has waived change fees for all tickets purchased between March 1 and March 31, for travel through Feb. 25, 2021. Tickets may only be changed once free of charge and must be reissued by Feb. 28, 2021. All rebooked travel must begin by that date as well. Fare differences may apply.
Alternatively, customers can cancel their flight and apply the unused value to the purchase of a new ticket within a year of the original issue date.
Previously, the airline said travelers who booked transpacific flights to Beijing, Shanghai and Incheon, South Korea and transatlantic flights to Italy could make a one-time change to their Delta booking /zigman2/quotes/200327741/composite DAL -2.36% without incurring any change fee, though fare differences may apply.
The old policy applied to travel dates through April 30. Tickets had to be reissued and rebooked travel had to start on or before May 31.
Hawaiian Airlines /zigman2/quotes/203188135/composite HA -3.78% will allow anyone who booked flights between March 1 and March 31 to change their travel to a future date without change fees. The airline is also waiving fees for those scheduled to travel through April 30 if the flights were booked before March 9.
Hawaiian previously suspended service between Honolulu and Incheon, South Korea, through April 30. Those who rebook for new travel on or before Oct. 31 will have change fees and fare differences waived, so long as the new booking is in the same department and there are no changes to the ticket’s origin and departure. Hawaiian is also waiving cancellation fees and providing refunds for affected flights.
Unlike other airlines, Spirit /zigman2/quotes/205782179/composite SAVE -4.63% has not announced a widespread fee-waiver policy. Instead, it’s “been offering flexible travel options to our guests who reach out with concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus” since late January. The company said travelers can contact the airline if they have questions.
Southwest Airlines /zigman2/quotes/201071949/composite LUV -3.07% never charges change or cancellation fees to customers, as long as they make the change or cancellation at least 10 minute prior to the flight’s scheduled departure. Customers can use the funds allocated for one trip for future travel up to one year from the original purchase date.
Sun Country Airlines
Sun Country, which is owned by Apollo Global Management /zigman2/quotes/203829595/composite APO -1.91% , is waiving change fees for customers traveling through April 15 if they call the company’s registration hotline. “While we do not fly to any destinations with an active travel advisory, we understand that flexible travel options are important for our guests with concerns about COVID-19,” the airline said.
The company’s policy in general is that people with flights more than 60 days out can change their reservation online without a fee.
While Allegiant /zigman2/quotes/208507686/composite ALGT -3.29% stressed that all of its flights are domestic within the U.S. and non-stop, the company said it will re-accommodate customers or provide a full credit for cancellations “to passengers with any concerns about traveling.”
Lufthansa Group /zigman2/quotes/202917219/delayed DLAKY -0.20% airlines Lufthansa, SWISS, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines and Air Dolomiti have introduced flexible booking options, the company said. Through March 31, Lufthansa is waiving rebooking fees for all newly-booked flights worldwide for a one-time change. The new travel date must be on or before Dec. 31.
For bookings that were made before March 5 with travel dates through April 30, passengers can also rebook for a new date up to Dec. 31 without needing to pay a change fee. With both policies, the depature and destination airports must stay the same, and fare difference may apply.
Lufthansa has cancelled flights to mainland China until April 24, reduced flights to Hong Kong and expects to further reduce short- and medium-haul flights in the coming weeks as the coronavirus spreads in Europe.
Customers whose flights are affected by these changes can request a refund free of charge. When flights are cancelled, Lufthansa will rebook customers at no additional charge, in most cases automatically.
The airline has suspended flights to mainland China, Hong Kong, Taipei temporarily. The airline is also only operation one flight daily to Italian destinations, as of Wednesday.
KLM is waiving change fees on all tickets issued on or before March 31 valid for travel through May 31. Flight changes can only be made free of charge if tickets are available in the same class for the new flight date, otherwise fare difference will apply. In addition to changing dates, customers can also apply the value of their original tickets toward flights between different destinations.
New travel must begin on or before May 31. For those who would prefer to fly after that date, they can receive a non-refundable voucher valid for 1 year.
British Airways /zigman2/quotes/208070069/delayed UK:IAG +0.03% has removed the change fee for new bookings may through March 31, the airline said. “We recognize the increased uncertainty that coronavirus (COVID-19) may be causing,” the company said. “This situation will remain under review and we will continue to provide regular updates. We will do everything we can to help customers affected.”
The U.S. Global Jets ETF /zigman2/quotes/207744796/composite JETS -2.78% is down 37% since the beginning of the year, while the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX -0.61% and Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA -0.54% are down 15% and 17% respectively over that same timeframe.
This story was updated on March 11, 2020.