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What Are Your Rights if You Cancel a Flight Due to Coronavirus?

group of angry businesspeople having argument with airport receptionist
By Richard Dahl on March 11, 2020 11:10 AM

You've been looking forward to that trip to visit your West Coast friends ever since you booked the flight last fall.

But that was before anyone even knew of COVID-19's existence. As the virus has spread, so has your trepidation. And now there's a cluster of confirmed cases near your destination.

So you're thinking of cancelling your flight. But if you do, can you recover the money you spent on your ticket? After all, we're talking a deadly health menace that didn't exist when you booked the flight.

Because COVID-19 was unforeseen when you purchased the ticket, does that give you a reason to get a refund?

Unless you have insurance (and probably not even then), you might be out of luck. Just being nervous about traveling is not a valid reason for getting a reimbursement.

Lacking Business, Airlines Are Offering Deals

But as air travel has declined sharply due to coronavirus spread this year, airlines are responding by loosening their usual restrictions. Many airlines, for instance, are waiving the fee for changed travel plans — a typical change fee is $200 or more — if you do it by a specified date.

As of March 10, for example, most carriers were waiving change fees for all tickets purchased by March 31 for rebooked travel. The time limit for rebooking and the rebooked travel dates vary.

Airlines are also waiving change fees for previously purchased tickets for flights to specific global hotspots. American Airlines, for instance, is waiving change fees for all flights to Italy scheduled through April 24. The flights must be rebooked by that date for travel within one year.

Several airlines are offering full refunds, even for refundable tickets, for unflown flights to the Chinese cities Wuhan, Beijing, Chengdu, and Shanghai, as well as to Hong Kong.

People who invest in travel insurance when they fly may be disappointed to learn that epidemics or pandemics are not covered. But if you have travel plans and haven't booked any flights yet, there is one type of insurance policy that might provide peace of mind: a Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) policy.

CFARs can be pricey, costing about 50% more than standard travel insurance, but you can cancel up to 48 hours of your departure time and be reimbursed 50 to 75 percent of the trip cost. Restrictions do apply.

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