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United, Delta, American Airlines offer COVID-19 fee waivers, but what if you booked in advance?

The coronavirus outbreak has would-be air travelers scrambling to change their plans or cancel their trips. Here’s what some major airlines are offering.

United, Delta, American Airlines offer COVID-19 fee waivers, but what if you booked in advance?
[Photos: Ross Sokolovski/Unsplash; Samantha Gades/Unsplash; Nick Morales/Unsplash]
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You booked a flight months ago. You were getting super excited about your upcoming dream vacation to Italy or Bangkok or the Grand Canyon or Los Angeles. But now the new coronavirus outbreak has you rethinking your plans. Do you go and take your chances or cancel and take the financial hit?

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That dilemma is playing out for countless travelers as COVID-19 spreads in U.S. states and countries around the world. Many airlines, including the top three major U.S. carriers—United, American, and Delta—have begun to offer fee change waivers for flights, which means travelers who booked or plan to book this month won’t have to pay the extra charge, usually hundreds of dollars, to change their travel plans amid the coronavirus uncertainty.

But as many, many, many observers have pointed out on social media, those policies don’t necessarily help people who booked their travel in advance—which is really what you’re supposed to do in the first place if you want a good deal on airfare.

So what can you do if you’re in that situation? The answer is, it depends on which airline you’re dealing with and which country you were planning to travel to. We reached out to the top three carriers for answers, and here’s what they told us:

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United Airlines

The policy: If you booked in advance to China, Hong Kong, South Korea, or Northern Italy, you can change your flight without paying a fee, according to a United spokesperson. (The airline has also suspended travel to select cities. In those cases, you can get a full refund.) Fee change waivers extend to travel anywhere—domestic or international—for tickets bought between March 3-31. You can also cancel a flight booked during that time and get credit for up to 12 months.

The details: United has the full terms and conditions posted on its website, as well as updates to its policies. More info here.

American Airlines

The policy: AA has suspended flights to and from Seoul, Milan, mainland China, and Hong Kong. If your flight was canceled, you can get a refund for your ticket. The airline is also waiving change fees for all new travel booked between March 1-31.

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The details: AA has a dedicated page on its website (aa.com/coronavirus) for COVID-19 updates. It also has a page for travel alerts, where coronavirus updates are being posted. Find it here.

Delta Air Lines

The policy: If you booked in advance to select cities in China, South Korea, or Italy (full list here), you can get a one-time waiver to change your ticket without a fee. (Like other airlines, Delta has suspended service to China, reduced service to South Korea and Japan, and suspended flights from JKF to Milan; you can request a refund if your flight was canceled.) Additionally, all international flights that were booked in advance and scheduled to fly in March are eligible to be changed for no extra charge. For domestic travelers, the fee waivers apply only to flights booked between March 1-31. However, a Delta spokesperson tells us the airline is offering “situational flexibility” for all customers.

The details: Delta has a dedicated coronavirus page on its website with updates as well as all the terms and conditions of its policies. Find it here.

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Other Airlines

Most major U.S. carriers have coronavirus-related policies stated on their websites, including Southwest, Alaska Air, Spirit Airlines, and JetBlue. The same holds true for international carriers like Emirates, Lufthansa, Air France, and even Ryanair.

These policies don’t apply to me. What do I do?

Call the airline! Even if your situation falls outside the scope of the policies announced publicly, you can often negotiate waivers or other special accommodations with a little persistence. Keep in mind the airlines are inundated right now with calls about the coronavirus, so wait times are likely to be insanely long. But it also means that customer service teams have an extra incentive to keep the calls moving along and keep you happy. Good luck.

About the author

Christopher Zara is a senior staff news editor for Fast Company and obsessed with media, technology, business, culture, and theater. Before coming to FastCo News, he was a deputy editor at International Business Times, a theater critic for Newsweek, and managing editor of Show Business magazine

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