By Taylor Rains
U.S. Airlines Ditch Covid-Era Ticket Flexibility
The COVID-19 vaccine has breathed new life into the American airline industry. People are finally beginning to feel comfortable flying again, and carriers are seeing a significant increase in future bookings. However, the surge in bookings and potential travel boom has led many airlines to ditch Covid-era ticket flexibility and reinstate strict, pre-pandemic fare rules. Although the decision is not surprising, customers need to remember to pay close attention to the terms and conditions before purchasing tickets.
When the COVID-19 virus officially became a global pandemic, travel came to a sudden halt. Borders closed, entry restrictions were put in place, cruise ships anchored and airlines canceled thousands of flights and suspended hundreds of routes. With uncertainty set in, carriers were forced to offer flexible tickets to entice people to book flights. For over a year, customers could purchase airfare without worrying about losing the value of the ticket or being charged cancellation or change fees; however, it appears those days are over.
Airlines are scrapping flexible travel policies and reverting to pre-pandemic rules, meaning customers will need to pay attention to fare restrictions, especially those booking basic economy. In April, American Airlines became the first carrier to resume reservation restrictions when it made its basic economy fares non-changeable and non-refundable. However, the airline is still allowing changes for international flights originating outside North or South America through May 31 (with the exception of Asia).
Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have also tightened ticket flexibility. As of May 1, all three carriers have scrapped their travel waivers for basic economy tickets and will revert back to non-changeable and non-refundable fares. Therefore, customers that worry about a new wave of COVID-19 affecting future travel should avoid booking the ultra-budget fare.
JetBlue Airways is the only airline still offering flexibility, which is currently set to expire May 31.
While the airlines mentioned above are eliminating flexible tickets, they have kept a few covid-era policies for non-basic economy fares. For example, last year, United permanently ditched change fees for domestic flights and several international destinations. Delta, Alaska and American quickly followed suit. Going forward, customers can make free ticket changes, though any fare difference will need to be paid.
A travel surge is expected this summer, and airlines are preparing their flight schedules. United Airlines recently announced nonstop routes to Croatia, Greece and Iceland as the countries open their borders to vaccinated Americans. Meanwhile, the new Croatia-based startup airline Pragusa.One has announced plans to operate flights between Dubrovnik and the United States beginning June 21.
This travel boom will likely lead to airlines worldwide dropping flexible tickets and returning to pre-covid restrictions, such as change and cancellation fees. Gone are the days of worry-free bookings as the world returns to some level of normalcy.