Travelers who booked flights for spring, summer and fall 2020 well before any of us had grasped the full extent of the coronavirus outbreak have likely either already canceled those flights, are looking into their options for doing so, or have had them canceled by their airline.
There are several factors at play when it comes to canceled or canceling flights—and there is an important difference between the two. Airlines have had to cancel countless flights for two main reasons. Firstly, they’ve reduced flights due to travel restrictions that have been put in place by various governments, including the United States, as the world works to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Secondly, they’ve cut capacity dramatically in response to the massive drop in travel as large swaths of the population have stayed home and practicing social distancing.
For flights canceled by the airlines, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a notice to U.S. and foreign airlines in early April reminding them that they remain obligated to provide “a prompt refund to passengers for flights to, within, or from the United States” when the carrier cancels the flight or makes a significant schedule change. (Lawmakers in Europe followed suit days later, when Europen Union Transport Commissioner Adina Valean rejected calls from airlines to relax refund rules.)
The DOT stated that it had been receiving a growing number of complaints and inquiries from ticketed passengers who said they have been denied refunds for flights that were canceled or significantly delayed.
For flights that passengers choose to cancel, the airlines are offering future flight credits, allowing travelers to cancel their ticket and basically set aside that money to be used on a flight at a later date—and thankfully, you don’t have to book that flight now (which is good because it’s impossible to know how this pandemic is going to play out). American and Delta are currently offering that flexibility for flights that were scheduled to depart all the way through the end of September, and United’s flight change waiver now extends to the end of the year.
Flights booked on American up until May 31, 2020, for travel through September 30, 2020, can be rebooked without change fees for travel that takes place by December 31, 2021; flights booked between March and May 31, 2020, for all future travel can also be canceled and changed without a change fee (while the fees will be waived, you will be charged a fare difference).
The airline is encouraging those who don’t plan to travel anytime soon to simply cancel their flight online and then rebook at a later date. When you’re ready to rebook, call the reservations department and be prepared to give them your 13-digit ticket number and 6-character confirmation number.
If a flight was canceled by American Airlines (either due to travel restrictions or capacity reductions), American said it will send affected passengers an email and they can either rebook the trip or request a refund for the remaining ticket value and any optional fees.
For flights booked with United between March 3 and April 30, 2020, you can change it for free—one time—for travel that takes place within the next year. Any flights booked prior to March 3 (regardless of whether they are domestic or international) with original travel dates through May 31, 2020, can be canceled and rebooked for a flight that takes place within 24 months with no change fees. Flights booked prior to March 3 with original travel between June 1 and December 31, 2020, can be canceled and rebooked within 24 months with no change fees but the change or cancellation must be done by April 30, 2020.
With regards to requests for refunds for canceled flights, United now has an online form that customers can fill out to see if they qualify for a refund. The airline said it could take up to 21 business days to process each request.
Delta Air Lines
Any Delta ticket for domestic or international travel through the end of September can be canceled and rebooked without a fee for travel that takes place up until September 30, 2022. Flights purchased between March 1 and May 31, 2020, can be changed without a fee for travel up to a year from the date of purchase. For flights canceled by Delta, the airline said that passengers will either be issued a future flight credit for the value of the ticket or they can request a refund.
Customers who were due to travel with JetBlue through January 4, 2021 on any flight that is booked by May 31, 2020, can cancel and bank the funds to use for travel up to 24 months from the date the flight credit was issued.
Southwest’s standard refund policies hold, with a few coronavirus-related adjustments. The carrier has tier fares that include refunds (Business Select and Anytime) and a tier fare (Wanna Get Away) that doesn’t include refunds. Those remain the same. But regardless of the type of ticket purchased, it can be canceled sans fee for a future travel credit for up to a year from the original date of purchase. However, if you had travel funds that were set to expire between March 1 and June 30, 2020, those will now expire on June 30, 2021; travel credits from flights canceled for travel that was originally scheduled to take place between March 1 and June 30, 2020, will expire on June 30, 2021.
Alaska flights purchased on or before February 26, 2020, for travel that was originally scheduled to take place March 9 through December 31, 2020 can be canceled, the money set aside in an Alaska account and the flight rescheduled for anytime up to one year from the original travel date. Any tickets purchased between February 27 and May 31, 2020, for travel anytime through April 30, 2021, can also be changed with no fee for travel up to one year from the original travel date.
German carrier Lufthansa is allowing travelers with flights that were booked for travel through May 15, 2020 to hold onto the original value of their ticket in order to rebook a flight for travel that takes place by April 30, 2021. The new flight must be booked by August 31, 2020. The carrier is not only not charging a rebooking fee but is offering a 50 Euro (or $55) rebooking discount that will be applied to the new ticket price.
The U.K. carrier is allowing customers who have booked or who book new flights between March 3 and May 31, 2020, to change those flights for free—and any existing bookings for departures through May 31, 2020, can be changed without a fee as well. Those who would prefer a refund have been asked to call the airline.
The French airline is offering a travel voucher for flights that were scheduled to depart through July 2, 2020, which will be valid for one year on any Air France, KLM, Delta Air Lines, and Virgin Atlantic flights.
If your original flight date has passed
The vast majority of airlines have issued statements informing passengers that if they weren’t able to get online or contact a reservations agent prior to their original scheduled flight due to extremely high call volumes, they can rest assured that they will automatically receive a future flight credit.
This story originally appeared on March 26, 2020, and has been updated to reflect current information.