Feel Uneasy Flying Among the Maskless? Airlines May Refund You

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Last week, a Florida judge sent the U.S. airline industry into a bit of a tailspin by declaring void the federal mask mandate on airplanes and other modes of public transportation. Almost immediately, most of the nation’s airports and major airlines dropped masking requirements that had previously been in effect for most of the pandemic.

The U.S. Justice Department afterward announced was filing an appeal of the ruling to void the federal mask mandate, but it wasn’t immediately clear whether the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would seek an emergency order to reinstate the regulations.

While some travelers may be breathing a sigh of relief that they no longer have to keep their faces covered in airports or onboard their flights, many may feel unsafe sealing themselves inside an airborne metal tube, seated amid hundreds of strangers, without having masks required to mitigate the spread of COVID-19—which, despite the collective sense that the virus is now under control, still presents a real risk.

Is there any recourse for those who’d rather not fly amongst barefaced strangers, but who already hold tickets for an upcoming flight?

According to Travel + Leisure (T+L), United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby addressed that question last week when he told the Today Show that United is willing to provide those who are uncomfortable flying amid current maskless conditions with flight credits or even refunds.

When pressed for details, a United spokesperson referred the outlet to the airline’s existing change policy. In 2020, the carrier joined other major airlines in eliminating change fees for all cabin classes except for Basic Economy. This month, United also altered its cancellation policy to enable customers to upgrade their Basic Economy tickets to Standard Economy so that they can make no-charge changes or cancel completely with a fee attached.

“We understand that many people remain concerned about COVID. Any of our customers or employees who prefer to wear a mask are welcome to do so,” the spokesperson told T+L. “In addition, HEPA air filtration on our aircraft makes the air you breathe on board the cleanest you’ll encounter anywhere.”

In response to a T+L query, an American Airlines spokesperson said that AAdvantage loyalty program members are able to use their existing flight credits for travel through December 31, 2022. However, Basic Economy fares that were booked after March 31, 2021, are no longer eligible for refunds or changes.

“We work to accommodate customers in their individual situations, and we do have an existing policy (pre-COVID) that makes exceptions for people with illnesses or health-related issues prior to traveling on American,” the spokesperson said.

COVID-era airport queues. (Photo via iStock/Getty E+/AJ_Watt)

American Airlines CEO Robert Isom told the Associated Press that his airline hasn’t seen many refund requests, as of yet. “But,” he said, “like we do in all these events, we are taking a look at our policies and…asking them to get in touch with our reservations office, and we will make sure that we accommodate them in an appropriate fashion.”

When T+L asked Southwest Airlines about its stance on refunds, a representative pointed to the carrier’s “everyday flexible policies”, as Southwest never charges change fees and customers need only pay any difference in fare price if they switch flights. However, those flying with the airline’s lowest-priced ‘Wanna Get Away’ fares are only eligible to receive future flight credits for the price of their unused ticket, rather than a cash refund.

An Alaska Airlines spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times that the Seattle-based carrier is willing to, “work with guests on a case-by-case basis if they’re not comfortable flying.” Likewise, a spokesperson for Delta Air Lines said that cancellation requests will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Source: TravelPulse

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