The number of Americans boarding commercial flights has risen steadily over the past five days, leading to an increase in reports of crowded flights on which social-distancing measures were impossible. There has been some recent criticism of American Airlines after a passenger boarded a weekend flight and found it nearly full, with no social distancing guidelines being practiced due to the shere amount of people on the flight. The question here is – if airlines keep running these flights, and travel continues even on a limited basis, what airlines are doing to protect passengers and what we can do to protect ourselves? Travel Expert, Francesca Page, sheds some light….
So are airlines listening?
American Airlines and JetBlue implemented new flying policies Monday, after travellers reported packed flights amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Taking AA as an example, we do know that despite the fact that American has cut 60% of its flights in April (and is reportedly planning on suspending more in May) beginning in early May, American will build on its cleaning program by expanding on the cleaning procedures already used during longer stops to every mainline flight. Changes will include flight attendents being required to wear masks (something Jetblue was already enforcing,) the distribution of sanitizing wipes or gels and face masks to customers, and an expansion of cleaning frequency in the areas under its control including gate areas, ticket counters, passenger service counters, baggage service offices and team member rooms.
What do you think people will do in future to protect themselves when flying and traveling in a larger sense?
There is no doubt that people are more aware of their vulnerability in general when traveling now more than ever. In terms of flying, airlines like AA have been very open about passengers rights to ask for a seat ‘re-assigment’ to create more space and have said they are blocking half of all middle seats but they have also said seat reassigment is not guaranteed. In a larger sense I think we’ll see business and consumer travelers taking it upon themselves to keep protected in a few ways:
- The landscape of travel insurance and protection will change, with more business and consumer travelers joining travel health and safety programs. Those that can afford it, will sign up air medical transport and travel security memberships so that if they hospitalized while traveling, get sick or injured, transportation to a home country hospital of their choice can be arranged for in-patient care.
- There will undoubtably be a rise in other alternative forms of transport to flying that allow more privacy and less exposure, like the road trip.
- People will be more aware of keeping themselves at a distance from other passengers and in flight etiquette will be more obligatory accross the board.
Let’s talk about getting refunds from flights… We know that as of last week – The U.S. Department of Transportation has mandated airlines to refund passengers in the event flights are canceled OR significant schedule changes or made OR government restrictions prevent flying due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Can you go back to the airline if you were given a credit and get a refund instead of a credit? This would be at the discretion of the airline – and it is to note – that despite the the statement from DOT – it is LIKELY that airlines will continue to try and offer credits instead of a refund – particularly as the DOT has said they wont’ be strictly enforcing this of yet – and they are giving airlines ‘time’ come into compliance with the mandate. Thus some airlines might act sooner on this than others.
How long can airlines continue to refund customers? Not for too long, however, while we can assume April and the early part of May people are going to be pulling trips, there is a chance that when it comes to summer and fall travel we could see an up-tick as restrictions are lifted. And yet, to counter this, I also predict that less exposed travel ideas, like a road trip will rise in popularity.
How are the airlines doing when it comes to responding to customers? Is there a work flow you and other industry insiders are noticing is working better than others? A lot of people are complaining of not being able to reach airlines. Now the good news is that many airlines like Delta, for instance, are aware of how jammed the call centers are and are automatically issuing refunds or credits on missed or cancelled flights now. My advice to travelers is that if you are really struggling to reach an airline, keep in mind that The Federal Fair Credit Billing Act gives you the right to dispute a charge for services not provided.
Reimbursement vs travel credit – even with this new mandate, should we be taking the refund versus the credit? Remember – as I have said – that airlines want to keep your business. When a flight is cancelled, airline systems try and re-book you on the closest available flight or offer you a credit voucher – but this keeps them holding your business and your cash. Now what do you do if your flight is NOT canceled? Hold onto your reservation SO THAT the airline calls the cancellation BEFORE you do – this will increase your chances of being entitled to a refund.
I think it’s safe to say that people are not jumping to book trips for the immediate future, but the people still have a lot of questions. Travel Expert, Francesca Page, attempts to answer some of the bigger questions below.
At what point do you go ahead and pull the plug on an upcoming trip? We can assume April and the early part of May but what about summer trips?
The travel industry is extremely shaken right now and no one can predict when this pandemic will pass. What we do know is that non essential travel during the present time is NOT recommended. Since most of the country is ordered to shelter in place, I think it’s best to plan trips many months ahead towards at least the end of the summer rather than rushing to the airport as soon as the restrictions are lifted. Also keep in mind less exposed travel ideas, like a road trip to visit the family. It will give everyone something to look forward to after months apart from one another.
How are the airlines doing when it comes to responding to customers? Is there a work flow you and other industry insiders are noticing is working better than others?
I think that most airlines are struggling to handle the mass amount of communication requests they are receiving from travelers regarding changes or cancellations to upcoming trips. A lot of people are complaining of not being able to reach airlines. But the good news is that many airlines like Delta, for instance, are aware of how jammed the call centers are and are automatically issuing refunds or credits on missed or cancelled flights. Of course, this policy varies by airline. Failing all this, The Federal Fair Credit Billing Act gives you the right to dispute a charge for services not provided, SO if you cant reach anyone, contact your bank – who is required to protect you.
Reimbursement or travel credit? Which are airlines offering and which should consumers go after?.
Remember that airlines want to keep your business. When a flight is cancelled, airline systems usually re-book you on the closest available flight and assume you accept the changes, unless you state otherwise. For noncommittal travelers, they’ll offer credit vouchers for future flights. While all of these options provide far more flexibility than the standard change and cancellation fees that customers are used to, REMEMBER that despite the added flexibility, these options are still in the best interest of airlines. By re-booking you or offering vouchers for future travel, airlines hold onto your business and keep your cash. Instead of accepting a voucher or date change now, I recommend to hold off until 72 hours before your trip, in case you eventually qualify for a refund.
What do you do if your flight is NOT canceled?
Cancellation and refund terms very much depend on the individual airline, with some being more consumer-friendly than others. Now as the number of COVID-19 cases rise, I would assume that the current travel waivers in place will continue to be extended, and offer more favorable terms. If you hold onto your reservation SO THAT the airline calls the cancellation BEFORE you do, this will increase your chances of being entitled to a refund. So if the current policy does not appeal to you, wait it out.