As goes the COVID-19 pandemic, so goes the U.S.’ largest airlines.
American, Delta, Southwest, and United have all made system-wide updates to help travelers who would like to opt out of their existing reservations and those who have to fly but want to be assured of their safety.
Delta Air Lines
To help both customers and employees maintain safe social distancing both on the ground and in the air, Delta is taking the following steps starting April 13 and extending through May 31.
Blocking middle seats
Middle seats in Main Cabin, Delta Comfort+, and Delta Premium Select will now be blocked on all flights.
If a flier wants to be seated directly next to a travel companion or family member, Delta asks that they contact Reservations or speak to a Delta agent at the airport.
If a passenger is unhappy with their seat once the plane is in the air (and above 10,000 feet), a member of the flight crew will help them find a new seat using weight-and-balance restrictions as a guide.
The company is reducing the number of customers on each flight, but it did not quantify what that reduction would be.
The airline is pressing pause on all automatic and in-advance Medallion Complimentary Upgrades. Instead, upgrades will be processed at the gate in priority order and using social distancing as a guideline to determine where upgraded travelers can be placed.
Boarding will now be done in groups of 10 and with extra distance between each person in each boarding group.
Delta is extending the ability to plan, re-book, and travel for up to two years.
Delta offered the following explanation regarding the changes:
“Tickets normally expire one year after purchase, but we’re providing waived change fees and greater flexibility to travel through May 31, 2022, for customers who: have upcoming travel already booked in April or May 2020 as of April 3, 2020; or have existing eCredits or canceled travel from flights in March, April or May 2020. Meanwhile, new tickets purchased between March 1 and May 31, 2020, can be changed without a change fee for up to a year from the date of purchase.”
Compliance with the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) recent Enforcement Notice regarding refunds
ConsumerAffairs asked Delta if it was going to comply with the DOT’s new policy, but as of press time, ConsumerAffairs had not received an answer from Delta’s media department.
Southwest’s latest update shows changes in its flight schedule for travel between June 6 and June 27. That includes a 50 percent reduction, which accounts for approximately 2,000 flights per day. The suspension of its international service will continue, but the airline had not published any city-specific or market-specific information as of press time.
Southwest says that if a traveler decides not to travel and has canceled their flight at least 10 minutes prior to its scheduled departure, the amount paid for that ticket can be applied toward a nonrefundable ticket (Wanna Get Away® fares), which is normally valid for one year from the date of purchase. Southwest explained that customers’ funds that have expired or will expire between March 1 - June 30, 2020, will now expire June 30, 2021. Any travel funds created because you cancel a flight between March 1 - June 30, 2020, will expire June 30, 2021.
Compliance with the DOT’s recent Enforcement Notice regarding refunds
Brian Parrish of the Southwest Communications Team told ConsumerAffairs that Southwest fully complies with the directive from the DOT. In an instance where a flight is cancelled, the airline offers these options to affected customers:
If a traveler would like to rebook, they may change their travel up to 60 days from the original flight date by visiting Southwest.com/rebook. Flights that have seats available will display as “Available.” Parrish said that online is a traveler’s best option as call volumes are likely to be very high to reach a Southwest Representative. On the other hand, if a traveler is unsure of their future travel plans, they do not need to take any action.
“Rest assured, the funds used to pay for this trip will be available for the Customer named on the ticket to use through June 30, 2021 (an extension from our previous time limit of one year from date of purchase),” Parrish said. “Customers simply use their original confirmation number as the way to access these funds in the future—similar to ‘store credit’ at most retail establishments.”
And if one of those doesn’t make the consumer happy?
“If these options do not meet a Customer’s needs, they may request a full refund to the original form of payment,” Southwest stated.
According to the airline’s latest update, it has extended its offer to waive change fees for customers who have summer travel through September 30, 2020. That offer is available for any of American’s fares, and customers will have until December 31, 2021, to make future travel plans. As far as fare changes, American says that “rules may apply depending on the ticket.”
American says that any ticket purchased on or before April 7, 2020, for travel through September 30, 2020, will not incur change fees prior to travel. Customers must pay any fare difference, if applicable, at time of ticketing of the new fare. All AAdvantage award tickets are included in this offer. Customers are allowed to change their origin and destination cities as part of this new offer. Travel must be completed by Dec. 31, 2021.
New travel purchases
American is also extending its offer to waive change fees for customers who purchase new travel through May 31, 2020. Any ticket purchased by May 31, 2020, will not incur change fees prior to travel, nor will any ticket purchased from March 1 at 4:30 p.m. CT through May 31, 2020, at 11:59 p.m. CT. This is available for any of American’s nonrefundable published fares.
Compliance with the DOT’s recent Enforcement Notice regarding refunds
A spokesperson for American said that “all tickets purchased prior to April 8: if American makes a schedule change that results in an arrival/departure delay of 61 minutes or more, the customer qualifies for a full refund.”
According to United’s latest update, customers with reservations now have until April 30, 2020 to make changes to, or cancel, any travel they have booked through the end of the year without fees. This is on top of the existing waivers that allow fliers to change or cancel plans for travel through May 31, 2020.
If a customer opts to cancel their flight, they can retain the value of that ticket to be applied to a new ticket without a fee. Those “electronic travel certificates” will be valid for 24 months from the date they were issued and includes all currently valid electronic certificates and all new ones issued on or after April 1, 2020.
“You might not see this policy change reflected everywhere right away – we appreciate your patience as we work to make that happen,” the airline notes.
Compliance with the DOT's recent Enforcement Notice regarding refunds
As of press time, ConsumerAffairs had not received an answer from United’s media department.