U.S. Domestic Airlines Updates & Change Fee policies due to COVID-19 outbreak

Friday, March 20, 2020

There’s a major relief for the domestic aviation industry in the United States as restrictions on travel within the country aren’t in place so far. President Donald Trump in his recent coronavirus briefing didn’t announce any domestic travel restrictions, but at the same time recommended that “discretionary travel” should be avoided by American citizens for the next 15 days keeping in with the new guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is quite necessary to blunt the spread of COVID-19 virus.

The coronavirus fallout is taking a heavy toll on the U.S. airlines already, and a domestic flight ban, even a limited one, would be quite severe for them.

However, nearly all U.S.-based airlines have taken a hit due to sharp drop in travel demand due to coronavirus scare. Major U.S. airlines have cut or trimmed service on select routes. These are in the form capacity-cuts through reduced frequencies or complete suspension of flight services on many underperforming routes.

Impact on Domestic Flights due to COVID-19

Several leading U.S. airlines have announced cuts to domestic services due to continued declining travel demand.

United Airlines became the first U.S. carrier to reduce its domestic schedule by 10 percent as soon as the coronavirus outbreak became public with the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring it a pandemic. United Airlines in its recent announcement said that it is likely to cut at least 20 percent of flights starting in May until the travel demand doesn’t show signs of recovery. The airline however hopes to see a “noticeable recovery” by the time the summer rolls around.

Delta Air Lines has said it will be reducing its domestic capacity by 10 to 15 percent. The airline officials said that the developments over the past week are really concerning and triggered the most uncertainty domestically.

JetBlue Airways indicated that it will cut domestic capacity by 5 percent “in the near term”.

American Airlines has also announced that it will be cutting domestic flights by 7.5 percent.

Southwest Airlines, the largest domestic carrier in the United States, said it is planning to cut its capacity by 20 percent through early June as it continues to grapple with a decline in passenger bookings. The airline said that the unprecedented levels of last-minute trip cancellations have made the situation worse with its planes flying half full.

The Airlines for America (A4A), an industry trade organization representing major U.S. carriers, said that despite the cuts being announced “domestic routes will remain open for business”.

Cancellation and Change Fee policies of major U.S. airlines

All major U.S. airlines have taken a serious note of the prevailing situation arising due to coronavirus outbreak and offering travel flexibility to their respective customers with some form of broad waiver to cancel or change flights without paying a fee.

American Airlines

The following are the waiver policies for the passengers travelling to/through/from all cities served by American Airlines:

  • Change Fee waived if ticket purchased on or before March 1, 2020
  • Change Fee waived if travel schedule is from March 1 to April 30, 2020
  • Change Fee waived for travel between March 1 through December 31, 2020 or within 1 year of date the ticket was issued, whichever is earlier
  • Changes to the trip allowed only one time. The passenger can change it now, or cancel and rebook later
  • Any fare difference in ticket price will have to be paid when the trip is re-booked
  • The passenger must start travel by December 31, 2020 or within 1 year of date the ticket was issued, whichever is earlier

Delta Air Lines

Delta Air Lines has broadly waived change fees for all domestic travel affected by coronavirus. This applies to all tickets purchased in March 2020 as well as all travel departing in March or April 2020. The following will apply if your travel will be eligible for a waiver:

  • The passenger can select a new destination or move travel dates. The flight must be before December 31, 2020 or as per ticket expiration date (whichever is sooner)
  • Unused tickets will be applied toward the passenger’s new flight. A Delta travel voucher for the difference will be provided if the new fare is lower. The difference will be applied if the new fare is higher
  • The passenger can change ticket for one time without a change fee

United Airlines

United Airlines offers travel flexibility to its customers when planning their next trip. The following cancel or change fee policies will apply:

  • No change fee over the next 12 months when flights booked between March 3 and March 31, 2020. Flights should be of equal or lesser value
  • Change fees waived for all tickets issued on or before March 2 for travel starting from March 9 through April 30
  • For new flights with higher fare the difference will have to be paid without any change fee
  • If the fare of new flight is lower than the passenger may change for free without being provided residual value
  • Cancellation for flights booked between March 3 and March 31, 2020 can be done by retaining the value of the ticket to be applied later on to a new ticket without cancellation or change fee for travel up to 12 months from the original ticket issue date 
  • If the passenger is not sure about when to travel then the trip can be cancelled and rebooked later with waived change fee

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines doesn’t charge cancellation or change fees to its customers ever. If the customer chooses to cancel the flight and decide not to travel then the funds can be used to pay for a new flight for future travel on the condition that the flight was cancelled at least 10 minutes before the scheduled departure. The funds will be valid for future travel up to 1 year from the original purchase date and is to be used by the same passenger in whose name the ticket is booked. If you decide to rebook then the flight may be changed up to 60 days from your original flight date. 

JetBlue Airways

JetBlue Airways has suspended its change and cancellation fees for all fare types and new bookings. If the customer wants to cancel the travel plan then the booked ticket amount will be credited in the form of a travel credit to be valid for one year. Fare differences may apply for changes.

There will however be additional flexibility for customers with existing bookings amid coronavirus circumstances. The cancel/change fees will be waived for customers travelling March 10, 2020 through April 30, 2020. The flights may be rebooked for travel through October 24, 2020, and are allowed on tickets booked on or before March 10, 2020. The fare difference for new bookings may apply. The funds will however be issued as a JetBlue Travel Bank Credit for cancellations, and will be valid for one year from date of issuance.