Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 26 November 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Can I cancel or change my flight due to the coronavirus crisis? The booking policies of major airlines explained

A guide to travelling during the Covid-19 outbreak as airlines cancel flights, waive change fees and relax booking policies

Airlines have been keeping a close watch on the spread of Covid-19, updating flight schedules and cancelling flights to follow guidance from the World Health Organisation and the International Air Transport Association.

With flights to several destinations around the world suspended and travel bans implemented by countries trying to contain the spread of the virus, travellers with flights or proposed travel plans on the horizon may be feeling confused.

If the situation has you worried, you might be able to reschedule or cancel travel plans (but be prepared for long wait times if you phone into call centres to do so).

Read below for more detail, and note that this story is regularly updated, but as the situation is so fluid, conditions may change.

Airlines offering more flexibility

Dubai Airports will screen all passengers to prevent the spread of Covid-19 outbreak. AFP  
Dubai Airports will screen high-risk passengers for the Covid-19 virus. AFP

From March, several airlines have introduced flexible booking policies designed to give travellers the option to change or cancel flights if travel plans change.

The majority of airlines have introduced flexible booking polices, including Emirates, KLM, Air France, United and Lufthansa. Travellers booking flights with airlines that haven't yet relaxed change and cancellation policies, may want to consider paying more for a fully refundable ticket in case travel plans need to be cancelled.

Can I cancel my flight?

Workers wearing protective gears spray disinfectant inside an airplane for New York as a precaution against the new coronavirus at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea, Wednesday, March 4, 2020.  (Suh Myoung-geon/Yonhap via AP)
Workers wearing protective gears spray disinfectant inside an airplane for New York as a precaution against the new coronavirus at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea, Wednesday, March 4, 2020. Suh Myoung-geon/Yonhap via AP

It's a difficult time to book flights as it is uncertain which countries will implement travel restrictions next and to where. You can see the most up to date list of travel restrictions on the International Air Transport Association's website.

If you do book a flight to a destination that is subsequently affected by a country-imposed travel restriction, you will be able to claim a full refund — so long as your booking was made before the travel restriction was issued.

Airline policies across the globe

If you have an overseas trip booked, here's a round up of what the airlines say you can do if you need to cancel or change your travel plans. Several airlines are reporting being extremely busy dealing with updates travel plans and asking travellers to refrain from contacting them unless you're due to fly in the next 72 hours.

Travellers who did not book directly are advised to rebook or reconfirm plans with travel agents: if they are facing different policies than those advertised by the airlines, they should discuss that with their travel agent.

Etihad: Flexible rebooking options and more schedule changes

The national airline of the UAE has suspended services and consolidated routes across its network due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Flights to Beirut, Istanbul, Casablanca, Rabat, Amman, Madrid, Barcelona, Khartoum, Baku, Rome and Milan have been suspended. Flights to Manila and Cairo will halt on Wednesday, March 18. Services to Nairobi and Geneva will follow on Thursday, March 19. Services to Jakarta, Seoul and Bangkok are reduced.

To Hong Kong, all flights are suspended until June 30. Flights are also cancelled to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Shanghai, Chengdu and Nagoya. Services to Bahrain and Muscat are reduced.

Etihad has waived fees for travellers that need to change or cancel flights due to these schedule changes and customers should contact their travel agent or Etihad.

Etihad is still flying to Beijing, but travellers should expect stringent screening procedures. Etihad flights to Bangkok and Phuket are operating, but Emirati passengers need to cancel or rebook flights due to the current travel ban.

Passengers affected by entry or exit restrictions in select destinations can reroute journeys via other places in Etihad’s network with no change fee applied. Etihad Airways Guest Services can advise on alternative ports.

Etihad Airways is also allowing teachers across the country to claim a full refund on flights that were booked for the spring break holiday. This comes after authorities in the UAE closed schools and moved the spring break holiday forward by two weeks

Teachers can claim a full refund so long as flights were booked on or before March 5, 2020. To be eligible, teachers must provide Etihad with a letter of confirmation of employment from their school or education institution. A full fare refund without any standard change fees will be issued.

All other travellers can make a change to new and existing bookings, without facing any change fees. New bookings can be for any time up to April 15, 2020 but only one fee-free change will be allowed. Travellers making new bookings between March 8 and April 7 to any destination across Etihad's network can change the date of travel or destination once, fee-free.

Air Arabia: changes allowed up to 72 hours before departure

Air Arabia's waiver policy applies to all new and existing flight bookings. The largest low-cost carrier in the Middle East and North Africa will allow passengers to change flight bookings without incurring any fees.

Travellers who book flights between now and Tuesday, March 31 for travel until Thursday, December 31 can take advantage of this new waiver policy. The policy also applies to existing Air Arabia bookings.

It applies to all flights across the Air Arabia network, and travellers can make changes fee-free up until 72 hours prior to departure time. Passengers will only pay any fare differences at the time of rebooking.

Emirates: Free changes on any bookings

Emirates' new waiver policy allows travellers who have booked flights to change their travel dates without having to pay any fees. The policy is applicable for any tickets purchased on or before March 31. Travel can be rebooked for any period within an 11 month window from the original date of travel.

Customers are advised that fare differences or applicable taxes may apply if they wish to change their bookings to a different fare class. Those affected due to cancellations of flights affected by the COVID-19 virus are advised to check emirates.com for rebooking or rerouting options.

Reduced services are currently operating to Bahrain and Hong Kong. Passengers can claim a refund or rebook to another travel date without any change fee. Emirates is also offering passengers the option to reroute flights to several destinations across the network including Dubai, Manila, Hanoi, Seychelles, Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Regionally, flights are suspended to Kuwait and Iran. Travellers holding tickets with a final destination of Tehran will not be accepted for boarding at any point of origin until further notice. From March 17 until March 31 services to Beirut, Iraq and Amman will also be suspended. Flights to Saudi Arabia have been suspended from March 9, with special flights operating from March 12-15 to help Saudi nationals return home.

Emirates has temporarily suspended flights to several international destinations. These include flights to and from Warsaw, Poland; cities across Italy; Turkey, several destinations in China; Casablanca, Morocco and to Bangkok, Thailand. It will stop flying to Taipei from March 16 until further notice.

To the US, the airline has stopped flights from Dubai to Fort Lauderdale and its transatlantic services from New York to Milan and Athens.

To China, flights are operating only to Beijing. Emirates advises travellers flying to the Chinese capital to arrive at airports four hours before scheduled departure times and to expect Covid-19 screening points.

Emirates passengers should contact their travel agent or the Emirates office for rebooking or refund options. Eligible passengers can claim a refund online using the standard Emirates request form. Travellers should enter ‘Refund request due to coronavirus’ in the comments box before submitting the form.

FlyDubai: Rebook without penalty in March

Low-cost airline FlyDubai has suspended flights to several destinations due to restrictions in place to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The airline has suspended flights to Saudi Arabia, Iran, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Italy. Other destinations with flight suspensions include Slovakia, Poland and South Sudan. To Pakistan, flights to and from Sialkot, Faisalabad and Multan will be rerouted to Islamabad. Flights to Queta on March 16 and 17 are cancelled. Passengers will be rebooked on Karachi flights.

Travellers who need to change plans due to the coronavirus crisis should contact flydubai via Facebook or email. Anyone with flights cancelled can rebook free of charge to travel up to 60 days from the original date of travel. If you want to rebook later than 60 days from the original date of travel, fare differences will apply. Customers can also request a full refund.

Passengers that want to change travel plans can rebook without penalties throughout March. Normal fare rules will apply from April 1, 2020.

Since UAE authorities advised people not to travel, a spokesperson for Flydubai said: "We are aware of the statement issued by the Ministry of Health. Passengers should be assured that we are taking all necessary steps as outlined by the international authorities which includes a robust aircraft cleaning programme. Our flights to Bahrain and Iran are cancelled and we are following all travel advisories."

Oman Air: zero-fee bookings

Oman Air has suspended flights to and from China, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Italy. The airline has also introduced a new zero-fee booking policy.

This means that travellers with tickets purchased from March 6 until May 31, can make changes to travel plans without paying fees. The waiver applies to all tickets, all fare types and all destinations across all travel up until October 31, 2020.

Saudia Airlines: all international flights suspended

The national carrier of Saudi Arabia has suspended all international flights in and out of the kingdom from March 15 for two weeks. The airline will refund or rebook tickets for any affected travellers. The airline has also waived all change fees on international flights to and from Saudi Arabia on tickets issued on or before March 31, 2020 for travel up to and including Wednesday April 15, 2020.

Qantas: Cancel flights and keep fare as travel credit

The Australian carrier has suspended all flights to and from mainland China after the coronavirus crisis.

Travellers with flights to China set to fly between now and Sunday, May 24, 2020 can apply to be rebooked on alternative services or request a refund. To be eligible, tickets must have been booked before February 20. No change fees will apply.

The airline is also reducing international services due to a drop in demand. Destinations where flights will be cancelled or reduced include Singapore, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Bali and Japan. The airline has also postponed the launch of its new Brisbane to Chicago route that was due to commence flying on April 15.

Until March 31, travellers with tickets to any Qantas domestic or international destinations can cancel their booking and retain the value as travel credit.

Lufthansa: massive reduction in flights across Europe

Flights to mainland China with Lufthansa are cancelled until at least Friday, April 24, 2020. Passengers that were due to fly on cancelled services are eligible for full refunds or free rebooking. Lufthansa flights to Hong Kong are operating on a reduced schedule throughout March and April. The airline has also reduced services by nearly 50 per cent across Europe and passengers are requested to reconfirm flight details before travel. Lufthansa Group has also suspended flights to and from Tehran until Thursday, April 30, 2002.

Free rebooking and full refunds are available for all Lufthansa customers affected by travel restrictions and immigration policy changes. Travellers booking new tickets can do so with a one-time change, free of any service charges so long as the new travel date is before December 31, 2020.

KLM: one free date change for all bookings

The Dutch airline has suspended all flights to Venice, Milan and Naples until April 3, due to the travel restrictions imposed across Italy. Travel restrictions to the US will see KLM operate an updated schedule to Washington, New York JFK, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco.

Flights are suspended to Beijing and Shanghai until at least April and to Chengdu, Hangzhou and Xiamen services are cancelled until May 3, 2020. The daily KLM service from Hong Kong to Amsterdam has been reduced to every other day.

Travellers booked on KLM’s codeshare services operated by China Southern, Xiamen Airlines and China Eastern can still fly to China but will notice a reduced frequency.

All travellers that were booked to fly on cancelled services to China, Italy, Hong Kong, Iran, South Korea or Singapore can request a refund or rebooking.

KLM has also introduced more flexibility for passengers booking travel across the globe during this time of uncertainty.

Passengers with travel booked between now and May 31 (ticket numbers will start with 074) are eligible for one free date change or a change in destination where the full value of the original ticket can be put towards the new one. No change fees will apply.

Delta Airlines: fees waived on all flights to Europe

Following government-issued travel restrictions from the US on travel from Europe, Delta has waived change fees for customers travelling to, from or through Europe and the UK until May 31.

American airline Delta has suspended flights from the US to Milan and delayed its Venice service launch. Flights to China and Iran are also suspended and the airline has reduced services to Seoul.

The airline has also offered flexible rebooking policies for any tickets purchased in March. Customers can make one fee-free change to an alternate itinerary so long as travel begins before February 28, 2021.

Ryanair: Offers fee-free changes

The Irish low-cost carrier is cancelling all services to Italy until April 8 due to Covid-19.

The move follows the Italian government's decision to impose restrictive emergency measures across the entire country. The airline had already announced a reduced service to Italy due to a drop in customer demand.

All customers that were due to travel with the airline on these dates have the option to request a refund, rebook flights or reroute their journey to another Ryanair destination.

Travellers with existing bookings can change flights up to March 31 with no fees other than fare differences.

Turkish Airlines: Cancellations to worst hit countries

Turkish Airlines has cancelled flights from Istanbul to China, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Iran, Iraq and Italy. Affected passengers should contact the airline for a refund or to book alternative travel. Flights to other European destinations including Germany, France, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, Austria and the Netherlands are suspended from March 17. From March 14, only Turkish citizens will be allowed to board flights from these countries.

All passengers can make one free change on any bookings. Tickets booked before March 5 need to be changed before March 16 and all other tickets can be changed up to five days prior to flights.

Air New Zealand: Hold fares as travel credit

Services across the Air New Zealand network have been reduced or cancelled. Flights to Shanghai and Hong Kong are suspended until at least May 1. Reduced services will operate to Taipei, Narita, Singapore and Samoa. Flights between Auckland and Seoul are cancelled until the end of June. Customers that were booked to fly on any cancelled services are eligible for a refund or rebooking.

The airline also confirmed a case of coronavirus on board a flight from Singapore to Auckland and onwards to Palmerston North. Air New Zealand has deep cleaned all aircraft the passenger travelled on it and is contacting all passengers that could have encountered the infected person.

All passengers with international bookings made between March 5 and March 31 will not pay fees if travel plans change and flights need to be adjusted. Tickets booked before this date can also be changed without a fee, and the fare can be held in credit for 12 months from the date of original issue if travellers do not know when they want to rebook for.

American Airlines: Flexible booking

From March 16, American Airlines will suspend all flights to Asia, other than to Narita in Japan. Across Europe, there will be a phased suspension on flights to London Heathrow. Flights to and from Amsterdam, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Madrid, Milan, Munich, Paris and Zurich are also suspended

More changes are set from March 16, with services suspended in some destinations across South America, Australia and New Zealand. The airline is due to cut capacity by 75 per cent.

The airline is also offering travellers more flexibility by waiving change fees on all tickets for travel through April 30. For tickets booked in March, this is extended to travel up until January 30, 2021.

Rebooked travel must take place between March 2020 and January 26, 2021 and the change must be made at least 14 days before the original departure date. Travellers will need to pay any fare differences.

British Airways: waiving change fees until May

Britain’s flagship carrier has cancelled flights to and from mainland China and to Italy. The airline is regularly updating its website with the most recent coronavirus updates, and travellers are advised to check the site before travel.

To Hong Kong, services have been reduced and customers that were due to travel any time between now and May 31 can request to rebook on to another BA flight at a later date. Travellers that were due to fly to the US before August 1 can cancel trips, change dates or request a refund.

British Airways is also waving change fees for any flights booked from March 3 until May 31. These tickets are eligible for a one-time change with no fees applied, up until the original date of travel. Passengers will only pay fare differences. Travellers can also exchange flights for a voucher of the same value that can be used towards future bookings.

United Airlines: flight waivers

United Airlines has suspended flights from the US to China and Hong Kong. Services are cancelled until Thursday. April 30. Some flights to Japan, Singapore and South Korea are also cancelled. Affected travellers can claim refunds or rebooking.

Changes in the airline's schedule to Europe will apply from March 20 with several destinations set to have services cut. The airline will still fly to Zurich, Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam, Manchester and Edinburgh, Frankfurt, Munich, Dublin and Lisbon and will continue multiple flights per day to and from London.

The airline is also offering waivers on all international and domestic flights for any travellers worried about the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. Travellers that book with United in March can make one change free of charge to any destination in United's network so long as travel takes place within the next 12 months.

Southwest: cancel free up to 10 minutes before departure

Southwest Airlines has a long-standing policy of not charging fees for flight changes or cancellations and the same rules apply now.

Fares paid for a flight that is cancelled for any reason can be applied to future travel up to one year from the purchase date, and cancellations are permitted up to 10 minutes before the scheduled departure.

Cathay Pacific: free unlimited changes

Hong Kong’s flag carrier is one of the worst hit airlines outside of mainland China. Having cut its flying schedules for March and April by more than 40 per cent, the airline has asked the majority of its staff to take unpaid leave.

Flights to South Korea and Italy are cancelled as are the majority of its flights to China. Services to New York, Washington, London, Barcelona, the Philippines, Australia and the Maldives are also reduced. The airline has also suspended all flights to Japan until at least March 28.

Travellers with flights to Vancouver, New York, Davao, Clark, Taichung, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan can request a full refund for any unused ticket, depending on the date of travel.

The airline has also waived rebooking and rerouting charges on all tickets issued worldwide from or through Hong Kong. This applies to all fare types so long as tickets were booked before specified cut of dates that range from Feb 4 to March 15. Travellers that booked between March 9 and April 20 can make free, unlimited changes to tickets without penalties.

Airlines in China: Air China, China Eastern, China Airlines

The worst affected airlines from the coronavirus outbreak so far have been those in China. Chinese airlines posted losses of more than 10 billion yuan in February, according to online news portal Sina.com.

China’s flag carrier Air China had cancelled services to Europe and the United States. However, a drop in new cases of Covid-19 across China means the airline is expected to resume services between San Francisco and Beijing on March 29, according to Routes Online.

China Airlines has cancelled all flights to Taiwan until the end of April.

All of the major airlines are offering passengers refunds for flights that are no longer operating. Bargain domestic flights can be found on several of China’s airlines as carriers begin to to reintroduce seat capacity across the country.

Singapore Airlines: waived cancellation fees

Singapore has cancelled hundreds of flights across North America, Europe, South Africa, the UAE, Australia and Asia. Reduced schedules will run until May 2020. Flights from Singapore to and from Dubai are also affected.

Singapore Airlines will offer all passengers who cannot travel due to entry or transit restrictions the option to rebook travel or claim a full refund. The airline is also waiving cancellation and charge fees for customers with tickets issued on or before March 4, 2020 for travel to China, Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea, Japan and Northern Italy.

JetBlue: flexible booking

The American airline has extended a no change fee or cancellation fee to allow passengers to make changes to travel plans without penalties. The airline has waived all change and cancel fees for travel up until April 30, regardless of when tickets were purchased. New bookings made in March will also not be eligible for change or cancel fees

This applies to all of JetBlue’s destinations. The airlines is offering passengers full credits that are valid for travel up to one year after cancellation.

Air France: European cancellations and change-fee waivers

All Air France flights to mainland China, Hong Kong, Seoul and Taipei are cancelled. This will continue until at least Sunday, March 29.

Flights to Europe are also reduced by 25 per cent and flights to Italy are cancelled until April 3. The airline has also cancelled all flights to and from Saint Petersburg, Russia, Tel Aviv, Amman and Beirut.

Travellers will be rerouted or can request refunds.

In addition, Air France are allowing passengers booking flights to any destination in March the option to rebook or cancel flights with no penalty charges. Existing bookings can be postponed at no extra charge.

Air India: one free change on all flights

India has stopped issuing tourist visas and the airline has cut flights to Italy, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.

Affected passengers should contact the airline for refund options.

Air India is allowing all passengers to postpone any international or domestic bookings across the network, up to May 31, 2020. Passengers will pay any differences in fares.

All international passengers arriving in India must now fill in a self-declaration form that will be screened by health authorities upon arrival in India.

Air Canada: free changes up to 2 hours before departure

Canada’s flag carrier has suspended flights to and from China. Passengers will be offered alternative travel arrangements or a full refund. To Hong Kong, flights from Toronto are cancelled and passengers will be rerouted on to the airline’s Vancouver route. A similar set up exists for flights to Japan and Seoul. The airline has temporarily suspended flights to Italy as well as other routes including from Toronto to Dubai, from Ottawa to London and from Montreal to Lima.

Travellers due to fly on affected services can postpone or change flights with no change fees , even when flights have not been cancelled.

All passengers with bookings made before March 4 for travel before April 30 can make a change to flights, up to two hours before departure times with no change fee.

New bookings made throughout March will also be eligible for a one-time change to flights without incurring any change fee up to 24 hours before travel.

UAE spring break changes

Schools in the UAE are to close for one month due to Coronavirus. Other countries have also closed schools or are taking precautionary measures to prevent the spread of it like in this elementary school in Taipei. EPA/DAVID CHANG
Schools in the UAE are to close for one month due to Coronavirus. Other countries have also closed schools or are taking precautionary measures to prevent the spread of it like in this elementary school in Taipei. EPA

The UAE Ministry of Education moved spring break in the country from March 8 to 29. Schools and universities across the country are also closed for a month.

Etihad has announced that it will offer any teachers affected by these changes a full refund, upon presentation of a letter from their employer.

Updated: March 18, 2020 11:24 AM

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