The outbreak of coronavirus (Covid-19) is causing widespread disruption to travel-related industries.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has estimated it could cost the global airline industry up to $113 billion, as carriers are forced to suspend flights, delay route launches and reduce frequencies.
The cause is a combination of travel restrictions, government recommendations against travel to some areas, and plummeting demand. One airline told IATA demand is down 26 per cent across its network compared with last year .
For all the blows to airlines, there are of course hundreds of thousands of passengers being left confused, frustrated and out of pocket.
While airlines should offer full refunds in the event of a flight cancellation, there has been little leniency shown for those whose travel plans have been disrupted by cancelled events or health concerns, as dozens of Business Traveller readers have written to tell us.
Instead, airlines have said they will temporarily waive flight change fees, both a way to give passengers more flexibility in uncertain times – and to boost their bookings for the weeks ahead.
Here are some of the announcements that have been made. We advise any affected passengers to check the latest information with their airlines as the situation is changing fast.
There will be no change fees for any flights up to May 31, 2020.
All customers who have flights set to depart up until May 31, also have the option of applying for a voucher, for the full value of their travel (including taxes and charges), plus an additional 10 per cent.
The voucher can then be used to book travel to / from any destination on the Aer Lingus network, and is valid for five years.
Those with tickets to or from China, South Korea, Iran, Israel, Italy, Germany, France and Spain for travel on or before 20 March can rebook or get a refund by 30 April 2020. Passengers with tickets to travel on or after 21 March 2020 can rebook or request a refund during the entire validity period of the ticket.
The airline says:
“When you purchase a ticket between March 4 and March 31, 2020, Air Canada will allow you to make a one-time change to your flight without incurring a change fee up to 2 hours before your departing flight. You can also cancel your booking and credit what you paid against future travel. In both cases any fare difference will apply, any residual value resulting from a lower fare will be lost and all travel must be completed by December 31, 2020.”
Air France tickets issued before March 31, for flights scheduled between March 3 and May 31, can be postponed free of charge until May 31 to the same destination and in the same booking class. Customers can also change destination or cancel their trip at the point of sale in exchange for non-refundable credit valid for one year on Air France and KLM flights. More information.
The Italian flag carrier is allowing customers who have booked tickets by April 3, 2020 for any flight departing February 25 to May 31, 2020 to rebook until December 31, 2020 or receive a voucher valid one year from the original ticket issue date.
American Airlines has waived flight change fees for customers who bought tickets before March 1, 2020 and are traveling through April 30, 2020.
Customers who book March 1 – March 31, 2020, for travel through January 30, 2021, can change their reservation at a later date without change fees.
For all customers scheduled to travel to Europe, including the United Kingdom, there will be additional flexibility through May 31, 2020.
“To allow greater flexibility, we are enabling customers to change their destination, date of travel, or both for free, on all new bookings made from Tuesday 3 March to Sunday 31 May 2020, as well as any existing bookings that depart up to Sunday 31 May 2020. Find out more.”
Cathay Pacific is offering free, unlimited flight changes for all bookings made between March 9 and April 20.
Delta is waiving change fees for:
- Customers traveling both international and domestic through April 30 for all tickets issued on or before March 9.
- Customers purchasing flights between March 1-31.
Customers can make a one-time change without a fee if their plans include:
- Europe and the UK – through May 31.
- Shanghai and Beijing, China – through May 31.
- Seoul, South Korea – through May 31.
The low-cost carrier has waived flight change fees for all new and existing bookings indefinitely.
Emirates has waived fees for changes to all bookings made on or before March 31 for travel before May 31. Rebookings are reroutings are permitted until June 30.
Travel can be rebooked for departures up to July 15, without standard change fees. Only one change is permitted and further changes will attract standard fees. Re-routing or rebooking can only proceed if there are no travel restrictions on intended routes.
Passengers can also request a cancellation. In this case, the refund is without penalty on the unused portion of any tickets. Subject to flight availability and travel conditions imposed by governments, guests who are impacted by flight cancellations or by entry or exit restrictions in selected destinations may also reroute their journey via other Etihad destinations in the same zones. More information (via tab on main website).
The Lufthansa Group’s low-cost carrier, Eurowings, will also offer free rebookings for all new bookings made until March 31, and free rebookings for travel until December 31 for flights already booked which depart up until April 30. For both arrangements, the rebooking must be issued by May 31. Customers can rebook to a different route, but this may incur fare differences.
Finnair will allow customers with bookings for any flights in March to change their travel date to the same destination until the end of June 2020.
All flights booked between March 6 and April 30 for travel up to November 30, 2020 will also be flexible. More information.
KLM tickets starting with 074 issued on or before Tuesday March 31 and valid for travel between Wednesday March 4 and Sunday May 31, can be postponed at no extra cost for travel before Sunday May 31. Fare differences will apply. More information.
Customers who have tickets for cancelled and existing Lufthansa Group Airline flights (with Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines and Air Dolomiti) can keep the ticket without committing to a new flight date.
Existing bookings will be cancelled for the time being, but the ticket and ticket value will remain unchanged and can be rebooked to a new departure date up to and including December 31, 2020.
This applies to tickets booked up to and including 12 March, 2020 with a travel date up to and including April 30, 2020.
Customers must request a change by August 1, 2020, but the change can be made after the trip was due to be taken.
No rebooking fee will be charged, but additional ticket costs will apply (though a 50 euro discount will be offered). The ticket may be changed to another destination.
Malaysia Airlines is offering the following flexibility options globally:
- Unlimited date changes free of charge.
- Flexibility of destination changes however fare and tax differences apply.
- Flexibility in “GO SHOW” for earlier/later flights on the same day of departure on the same route for travel from 13 March to 31 May 2020
Effective immediately, passengers holding Malaysia Airlines-operated tickets travelling from or to any Malaysia Airlines online destinations with or without connections, will have the option to take advantage of the following:
- 232 tickets issued on and before – 31 March 2020
- Any rebooking must be made on or before 31 May 2020
- All rebooked travel date must be completed by 31 Dec 2020
- This policy applies to all tickets issued with confirmed reservation on MH 232 stock.
With regards to re-booking options, unlimited free changes will be permitted within the original ticket validity. However, revised travel dates must be rebooked and completed as per criteria listed above and subject to flight availability of original origin and destination.
Passengers that have booked or will book flights for travel up to June 30, 2020 will be offered the flexibility to change their travel plans free of charge by altering the dates of their booking or exchanging their ticket for a travel voucher valid for one year. Both changes apply up to three days prior to departure. More information.
Singapore Airlines also has different policies in place for different routes. Per its website:
Customers travelling to and from Mainland China, Hong Kong,Macau, South Korea and northern Italy
We will waive cancellation and change fees for customers with tickets issued on or before March 4 for travel to and from Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea and northern Italy from January 24 to April 30. The new travel date must commence on or before August 31.
Customers travelling to and from Japan
We will waive change fees for customers with tickets issued on or before March 4 for travel to and from Japan from March 3 to April 30. The new travel date must commence on or before August 31.
For cancellations, refunds would be in accordance with fare conditions of the ticket(s) purchased.
Customers unable to travel due to entry or transit restrictions
We will waive all cancellation and change fees for customers with tickets issued on or before March 3 for travel on any Singapore Airlines or SilkAir operated flights from March 3 to April 30. The new travel date must commence on or before August 31.
The airline says:
“If you are scheduled to travel between now and April 30 and would like to change your plans, there is no fee to do so. You can cancel your flight for a future travel credit quickly on united.com or through the United mobile app – a phone call is not required.
“To change or cancel your flight online, view your reservation, enter your trip details and select the appropriate option. For step-by-step instructions on how to change your flight, or cancel or rebook later, visit here.”
Virgin Atlantic has the following policy:
- For bookings made before 12 March, for travel between 1 March and 31 May 2020, travel can be rebooked between 13 March 2020 and 31 December 2020.
- For bookings made between 4 March and 31 March, travel can be rebooked between 4 March 2020 and 31 December 2020.
Wizz Air has been overwhelmed by the crisis, and so has temporarily disabled its online claims form until 14 April 2020. In its place it has automated its refund process for cancelled flights by automatically uploading 120 percent of the original fare in airline credit to affected customers’ WIZZ accounts. The airline says “this measure has been introduced due to the significantly higher volume of cancelled flights following the travel restrictions imposed to limit the spread of COVID-19…. Wizz Air would like to reassure that all affected customers will still be eligible for a full cash refund for their cancelled flight(s) if manually selected, and refunds will be processed as soon as possible.”
Have your travel plans been impacted by coronavirus? Let us know in comments.