American Airlines Updates Travel Waiver Policies

As the aviation industry continues to feel the impact of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, American Airlines announced changes to its travel waiver policies to provide customers with additional flexibility.

Officials from American revealed they had extended the carrier’s offer to waive change fees for customers who booked summer travel through September 30, which is available for any of the airline’s fares.

Customers taking advantage of the expanded travel waivers will have until December 31, 2021, to complete their rescheduled travel. The carrier said fare rules may still apply, depending on the ticket.

As for travelers who booked on or before April 7 for flights through September 30, they will not be forced to pay change fees, but must pay any fare difference at time of ticketing, if applicable.

In addition, American customers will be allowed to change their origin and destination cities as part of this expanded offer and all AAdvantage award tickets have been included in the policy changes.

The airline also announced customers who purchase new travel through May 31 would have their change fees waived, with the offer being made available for any of the carrier’s published nonrefundable fares.

American officials said any ticket purchased between March 1 and May 31 would not incur change fees before travel.

Last week, the United States Transportation Department issued an order to airlines to refund tickets for canceled or significantly altered flights.

Officials said the “longstanding obligation of carriers to provide refunds for flights that carriers cancel or significantly delay does not cease when the flight disruptions are outside of the carrier’s control.”

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Covid 19 coronavirus: Kiwi travel agents seek work combatting Covid 19

Grounded travel workers around New Zealand are asking if essential Kiwi businesses are in need of extra hands.

Messages asking to #HelpKiwisFly again have been trending on social media as grounded travel agents and cabin crews are looking for redeployment opportunities to make a difference during the Covid-19 crisis.

Last week the high street travel agent Flight Centre announced it would be closing 33 stores in New Zealand. This cut is part of a 30 per cent cull of staff, that represents over 4000 jobs across Australia and New Zealand.

David Coombs Flight Centre New Zealand’s managing director said it was a decision they had “hoped to avoid.”

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Airlines Say Stimulus Not A Cure-All For Waning Demand

While appreciative of the nearly $60 billion in aid from the government’s $2 trillion stimulus package for economic relief, the airline industry says it’s not a cure-all for the waning demand in travel due to the coronavirus.

“While this assistance is welcome, it’s important to remember that the relief package is not a cure for the unprecedented challenges we face,” Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian told employees in a memo, according to CNBC.

Both Delta and United Airlines said going forward they are likely to become smaller airlines with fewer employees, although part of the government aid package, or some $25 billion in grants, requires the airlines to continue to pay employees through the end of September. The remainder of the bailout comes in the form of loans.

But given the spread of the virus, airline executives expect the new normal – drastic cuts in service, flights barely a quarter full – to last for quite a while.

“Based on how doctors expect the virus to spread and how economists expect the global economy to react, we expect demand to remain suppressed for months after that, possibly into next year,” United CEO Oscar Munoz and United president Scott Kirby, who’s scheduled to take the helm in May, wrote in a message to employees. “That means being honest, fair and upfront with you: if the recovery is as slow as we fear, it means our airline and our workforce will have to be smaller than it is today.”

Most airlines have asked employees to take voluntary unpaid leaves of absence or early retirement.

Mandatory stay-at-home measures implemented by more than a dozen states, inhibiting more than 80 million Americans from leaving their homes except to go to work or essential places of business such as grocery stores and banks, have contributed to the drastically falling numbers in airline travel and hotel stays.

But Kirby and Munoz remain optimistic.

“So when travel demand returns — and it will return — we will bounce back and be ready to accelerate towards our goal of becoming the best airline in the history of aviation,” they wrote in their memo.

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Airlines owe you a refund when they cancel a flight. So why is United balking during coronavirus crisis?

The text from United Airlines popped up on Joe Bushee’s iPhone just before dinner on Sunday.

a large passenger jet sitting on top of a runway: An United Airlines plane is shown on the tarmac from an outdoor terrace and observation deck at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco on Feb. 20, 2020.

“Your flight UA366 from Hartford to Denver is canceled due to the unprecedented circumstances currently affecting travel,” it said.

Bushee, 27, a television producer, had already decided not to go on the trip with his college buddies due to  coronavirus concerns but hadn’t called United to cancel because the airline’s website urged travelers to wait until 72 hours before their flight. Bushee’s wasn’t due to leave until Thursday.

When he called United on Monday, he asked about his reimbursement options. He wanted his $364 back and figured it was a no-brainer since United, not him, canceled the flight. He had received an instant refund for a concert in Denver that was canceled.

Bushee said the agent told him United is not giving out refunds “at this time” and offered a different flight to Denver or a travel credit good through December. Bushee declined.

He read up on the U.S. Department of Transportation rules requiring refunds on nonrefundable tickets when an airline cancels your flight and turned to Twitter for help from United, to no avail.

He called United back, and a second agent said he was due a refund, but when he tried to process it, the computer only showed a travel credit as an option. The agent told Bushee he hadn’t seen any official policy from United about not issuing refunds but figured it was because the airline was losing “a lot of revenue.”

Bushee asked to talk to a supervisor and pressed his case. He was finally promised a refund. 

The most frustrating part of the ordeal, he said: “Nobody seemed to know why I couldn’t get the refund.” 

No major U.S. airline is outwardly touting the availability of cash refunds to passengers whose flights are canceled given the industry’s precarious finances, typically offering rebooking or a travel voucher as the first options online and over the phone. (Travelers who cancel upcoming flights on their own can rebook or receive a travel credit, with the change fee usually waived depending on the travel date.) 

But American, Delta and Southwest do offer refunds without fine print for domestic and international flights the airlines cancel, their standard practice.  

United is playing hardball with travelers who should be eligible for a refund – something it did not do during the Boeing 737 Max crisis that grounded planes and forced thousands of flight cancellations over the past year.

The airline’s coronavirus refund policies for travelers whose flights are canceled by the airline are the stingiest of the big four U.S. airlines and appear to skirt the DOT guidelines. An agency spokesperson said the government’s rules have not changed: a passenger is entitled to a refund if an airline cancels a flight and the passenger chooses not to accept an alternative flight on that airline. 

@united Actions speak louder than words. Refund passengers whose flights you have cancelled. Taking money from people for flights that no longer exist is not a demonstration of unity; it’s a demonstration of corporate greed, at best – and theft at worst.

United’s policies are complicated and hard to find on the airline’s website or get clear answers about from the airline. Its cancellation assistant bot offers no help on this front.

The bottom line for travelers: United is not offering immediate refunds for canceled international flights and has added a big hurdle for canceled flights within the U.S. The changes came as United and other airlines have slashed flights in unprecedented numbers as travel demand has plunged due to government and business travel restrictions and traveler anxiety.

Domestic flights: For canceled flights within the United States, United is not issuing refunds unless the new flight their computer system automatically put you on delays your departure or arrival by more than six hours. If it doesn’t, and you don’t want to travel, you’ll receive a travel credit for the value of the ticket. (United booked Bushee on a flight three hours later, which required a connection. His original flight was nonstop.) The DOT policy does not mention time frames  for determining a refund when a flight is canceled. There is a separate policy on refunds for significant delays caused by a schedule change.

The only exception to United’s domestic refund policy: flight cancellations to destinations the airline no longer serves due to coronavirus fallout. Those travelers can get their money back. So far, that list only includes Mammoth Lakes, California, United spokeswoman Leslie Scott said.

International flights: United is effectively delaying any passenger refunds for up to a year. Travelers whose flights are canceled – and this is most international travelers as international flights service has nearly been eliminated – will receive a voucher for the value of their ticket, and if they don’t use it within a year of the ticket purchase date, they can then get their money back. 

“It seems like they are going out of their way to not be as accommodating as other airlines are, and that’s unacceptable,” said William J. McGee, aviation adviser for Consumer Reports.

Don’t want to fly during coronavirus? Don’t rush to cancel that ticket

The DOT said in a statement to USA TODAY that the department was aware of complaints regarding airlines’ refund practices and was reviewing the issue.

Scott said United has communicated with DOT about its policies “and they have not objected.”

She also said other major global airlines, including Air France/KLM and Lufthansa, have implemented a similar policy of only offering credits for international flights, some without the option for a refund later.

“We have implemented brand-new policies in the last few weeks to give our customers more flexibility in these extraordinary times. Our policies are transparent and clearly spelled out for our customers, laying out steps to take if their plans change,” Scott said, mentioning the airline’s coronavirus travel waivers. “We’re proud of the role our company – and our employees – play in serving our customers during the most disruptive global crisis that the commercial airline business has ever faced.”

A dream international trip deferred, a refund significantly delayed

Matt Williams, 43, a university professor in the United Kingdom, calls what United is doing during the coronavirus crisis “malpractice.”

Williams and his husband spent more than $4,800 last August for two nonrefundable business-class tickets to San Francisco for a two-week dream trip down the coast of California.

They were supposed to leave April 7. Williams said he called the help line for business-class customers last week to check on the status of his flight. It was still scheduled.

Williams didn’t want to cancel because he figured he was due a refund if the flight was canceled by United. Williams said the customer service agent was insistent that he cancel the flight, mentioning the Europe travel restrictions announced in mid-March, and take a credit.  

“I was pretty bulldozed into it,” he said. “I really regret calling them.”

A few days later, United canceled the long-haul flight. 

The credit Williams received expires in November, but he said he won’t be able to use it by then and would like his money back now. He said he received instant refunds from other airlines including Irish discount carrier Ryan Air, which isn’t exactly known for top-notch customer service.

“They sent me an email saying, ‘Here’s your money.”’

Williams said he has reached out to United executives for help and circled back with a United representative. The agent cited European Union aviation laws, which are generally more liberal than U.S. consumer protections, that say passengers are not entitled to compensation if it was caused by “extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided.”

“Mr. Williams,” the email said, “COVID-19 is an extraordinary circumstance.”

United (or any airline) canceled my flight and is not offering my money back. What can I do?

1. Keep pressing your case with airline representatives, over the phone (late night is best for lower call volume) or via social media, and cite the DOT policies. Be polite and respectful, not angry and rude. Customer service representatives have been overwhelmed by the crisis. 

2. Document everything. Provide dates, times, flight numbers and reservation numbers, McGee said. And always record names, titles, times and dates of all in-person and phone conversations. The more information, the stronger the case, he said.

3) File a complaint with the airline and copy the DOT and the EU if applicable. 

4.) Contact your credit card company for potential help.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Airlines owe you a refund when they cancel a flight. So why is United balking during coronavirus crisis?

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Airlines, airports shift terminals as passenger traffic craters

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Travelers around the U.S. may be heading to different terminals than usual for their flights, as airports consolidate operations to cope with a major drop in demand and a lack of available Transportation Security Administration agents for screening.

The scope of the changes remains fluid as the industry struggles to keep pace with the effects of the quickly-evolving coronavirus pandemic.

For example, at New York’s JFK Airport, all passengers now must check in at Terminal 4 after 8 p.m. (8:30 for JetBlue passengers).

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Operations at JFK are also somewhat consolidated earlier in the day, with airlines including British Airways, Alaska Airlines and Iberia mostly vacating Terminal 7 and bunking up with American in Terminal 8. Alaska said arrivals after 9 p.m. will continue using Terminal 7 for the time being.

For Oneworld flyers, the changes at JFK offer a preview of what’s to come when a redevelopment project there is completed and brings AA and BA together under one roof for good. American and British Airways, of course, are each members of the Oneworld alliance.

Elsewhere in the New York area, Delta has consolidated its LaGuardia check-ins to Terminal C, and United has brought all of its land-side operations to Terminal C in Newark as a result of the TSA closing the Terminal A checkpoint. United is still using gates in Terminal A for some flights, and passengers can take a post-security bus there from Terminal C.

a view of a mountain: An aerial view of John F. Kennedy International Airport Airport on December 4, 2016. (Photo by Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images)

“TSA has seen a significant decrease in the number of travelers flying nationwide,” an agency representative said in a statement. “In some cases, due to the desire to maintain social distancing, some checkpoint lanes at airports are not open to ensure passengers are spaced apart by not having two lanes open adjacent to each other.”

Other airports are seeing consolidated operations as well.

American Airlines, for example, continues to operate out of all terminals at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, but has closed some gates in response to decreased demand.

In Houston, United Airlines has consolidated check-in operations to Terminals C and E, and the TSA has closed the Terminal B security checkpoint.

“We are looking at all the things we can do to save on costs, and this is one of them: consolidating terminals,” said David Gonzalez, a United Airlines spokesman. “We’re just doing everything we can to make sure our customers continue to receive the customer service they’re accustomed to from us.”

In Atlanta, the busiest airport in the world by passenger volume, Delta is reducing its footprint at its main hub, scaling back its use of concourses C, D and E, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In a memo to employees reviewed by TPG, Delta’s CEO said the airline is using a runway at ATL for airplane storage. Delta has also temporarily shuttered operations at JFK’s Terminal 2, as well as Terminal 3 at LAX.

Dozens of commercial airplanes are parked along a runway at @ATLairport, as @Delta cuts flights 80% and grounds more than 600 planes due to the coronavirus pandemic:

— AJC (@ajc) March 22, 2020

It’s likely that airport operations will remain in flux as airlines continue to cut their schedules.

According to American Airlines, it was operating less than half its network-wide schedule on Wednesday, with 75% of its JFK operation canceled, 70% at LGA and even a 53% reduction at DFW.

For airlines, help getting through the slump is on the horizon, with an aid package worth $50 billion expected to become law by the end of the week. While grants and loans may provide a temporary shot in the arm for U.S. carriers, it remains unclear when demand for travel will rebound, and it’s likely that the airline industry will look different for a long time, even after the pandemic passes.

Featured photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

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Alaska Airlines Reducing Flight Schedule by Around 70 Percent

Due to a lack of demand attributed to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, Alaska Airlines announced plans Wednesday to reduce its flight schedule for April and May by approximately 70 percent.

Alaska Airlines officials said demand has dropped by more than 80 percent as a result of social distancing and restricted travel, resulting in the carrier revealing flight schedules for June and beyond would be based on demand for at least the next several months.

“Alaska’s goal, since the onset of this outbreak, has been to keep our employees and guests safe and healthy, and to ensure that our airline is here to support and serve them in the future,” Alaska CEO Brad Tilden said in a statement. “But we also know that given the lack of demand for air travel and profound impact on the financial management of our business, hard work and aggressive control of costs and cash are required, even with additional support.”

As a way to offset the lost income, the airline announced both the CEO and President would take 100 percent pay cuts, the Horizon Air President would take a 50 percent cut, EVPs and SVPs would take 30 percent cuts and more.

In addition, Alaska Airlines is asking some employees to take voluntary leaves of absence, suspending annual pay increases, reducing hours for management employees and releasing contractors and temporary workers.

“We are ultimately optimistic about the future of our great airline,” Tilden continued. “But it is clear that we are and will be under severe financial pressure for the foreseeable future and that is why these actions are essential.”

The carrier got good news this week, as the airline industry is expected to receive a $58 billion bailout as part of the $2 trillion stimulus package designed to aid a domestic economy ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.

Aviation officials are also hoping the bailout helps airlines avoid previously reported plans to completely shut down domestic air travel to curb the viral outbreak.

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US airlines slash food and beverage service

Major U.S. carriers have announced temporary cutbacks to food and beverage services as Covid-19 safety measures.

Southwest has gone the farthest on this front, announcing that it is suspending all in-flight beverage and snack service as of March 25 until further notice.

“Our desire to continue providing Southwest hospitality is as strong as ever, and the entire Southwest team truly appreciates our customers’ understanding of the difficult decisions we must make during these unprecedented times,” spokesman Brad Hawkins said in an email.

Also March 25, Delta said that the only beverages it will serve across all cabins is individual bottled waters. In addition, the carrier halted meal service in first class and Delta One cabins for domestic flights and short-haul international flights. Only snacks will be provided.

American has ended first class meal service on flights of 2,200 miles or shorter. The carrier has also eliminated snacks or food for purchase and alcohol on those flights. Water, canned beverages and juice are still available upon request. Longer flights will also have reduced service options, though alcohol remains available in first class and meals will continue to be served on long-haul flights.

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