Coronavirus travel: Airlines waiving change fees, letting travelers book new dates without penalties

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Amid growing coronavirus concerns, many airlines announced this week they will waive pesky change fees and give flyers an opportunity to book new dates without penalties.

It may be unprecedented, but the airlines have to stop the bleeding somehow and try to drum up business, so they're waving goodbye to the typical $100 to $200 change fees they usually collect.

That's good news for passengers holding existing tickets and booking new tickets

Clients of Cook Travel in Manhattan are canceling itineraries as their companies nix business trips for the foreseeable future in the face of COVID-19.

In response to the steep drop in demand, major U.S. carriers including American, Delta and United are waiving change fees for international and domestic flights.

"They could change their ticket without paying any penalty," said Madison Chafin with Cook Travel. "You would just pay the fare difference."

Tickets had to be issued between March 1-10th for travel between now and April 30th. Most require you to re-book travel within a year.

Check with your carrier, exact dates vary and policies are changing daily as the industry copes with coronavirus fears.

"We are definitely taking a hit and expecting to for the next few months," said Chaifin.

Airlines are not giving money back on non-refundable tickets. The only possible exception is if the airline cancels your flight.

"We're all in the dark," said Joseph Decicco. His daughter, Nicolette, was booked on a 12-day educational tour with her high school to Spain and Portugal for spring break.

However, New York City's Department of Education announced all international travel is canceled for students safety earlier this week.

The tour company also canceled -- 24 hours after taking the parents' last payment.

"I'm in the hole about 4 grand. That's a lot of money. And there's other parents affected as well," Decicco said.

Their case is typical of what we're hearing. Tour companies and cruises are either offering no refunds at all, 50 percent cash back or are issuing vouchers for future travel.

The student group all purchased travel protection.

Cancel-for-any-reason insurance is the only type of policy which would cover pandemics for partial refunds.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his office is working with providers on helping travelers with coverage plans.

Cancel-for-any-reason travel insurance wasn't even offered in New York before the Coronavirus and consumers complained. So far six insurance companies have agreed to begin offering the policy which is very expensive.

The NYC Department of Education released the following statement:

"These trips were canceled to keep our kids safe-a company shouldn't take advantage of that. We are working hard on behalf of these families to pursue a refund and have reached out to the company to explore options."

EF Educational Tours released the following statement:

"The health and safety of our travelers and staff has been our top priority for more than 55 years. We are closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation, are in constant communication with our offices around the world, and are actively following the guidance of all relevant health authorities.

We are also working with our groups, their schools, and individual families to provide flexible options for tours that have already been booked. We have extended our Peace of Mind program to all tours scheduled for 2020, to ensure that everyone feels safe as they embark on, modify, or postpone their educational experience. Our Peace of Mind program allows groups to change their itinerary, destination, or departure date - or take a transferable voucher, which can be used for any tours in the EF family of programs or at EF's International Language Campuses.

Typically, the Peace of Mind program is only offered to tours modified at least 45 days prior to departure, but given the current situation, we are allowing flexible rebooking without penalty for any 2020 tour right up until the day of departure. Groups have until March 16th if they would like to exercise one of these flexible options."


Click on each airline to read about their change policies:

Delta
United
American
Southwest
Jet Blue

INTERACTIVE: What we know about COVID-19 - US map, prevention, cases

Latest Coronavirus News

Latest news on coronavirus in New York and New York City

Latest news on the New Jersey coronavirus cases

Latest news on Connecticut coronavirus COVID-19
Copyright © 2020 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.