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Current Airline Policies During COVID-19 Pandemic

Some cancellation restrictions continue, even as omicron upends travel plans

Airplane at airport gate

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En español | The federal government still requires passengers to wear masks on planes, trains and other forms of public transportation as well as in airports and train stations.

Remember when airlines instituted those consumer-friendly policies during the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak — when demand for flights had plummeted and they were doing anything they could to persuade passengers to travel? Most helpful during the pandemic: Customers were allowed no-fee changes and cancellations on the cheapest economy flights. 

Depending on the airline, that may no longer be the case. Many reinstated the nonrefundable economy fare. Inexpensive, maybe, but not a great choice as the pandemic continues, says Zach Honig, editor at large at The Points Guy, a travel advice website. Unless you’re sure of your plans, he notes, you should avoid non-refundable tickets where “you’re going to be locked in to your ticket."


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That's especially true as the highly infectious omicron variant is sending COVID-19 rates soaring, and travelers are facing new uncertainty about their plans. Meanwhile, airlines are struggling with labor shortages, flight cancellations and fed-up customers. That may mean the imminent return of free flight changes for economy travelers but until then, here are the major airlines’ current policies:​

Alaska Airlines has eliminated change fees on main and first-class fares, although fare differences apply. Saver fare tickets are nonrefundable and cannot be changed. Baggage fees are $30 for the first checked bag, $40 for the second (waived for Alaska Airlines credit card holders and elite-level Mileage Plan members). 

​On most flights of more than 350 miles, limited food is available but through preorder only. More details here.

American Airlines has eliminated change fees for many tickets on domestic and international flights originating in the U.S. and North and South America, although fare differences apply. But basic economy tickets are non-refundable and non-changeable. Customers can fly standby on earlier flights for the same destination on the same day at no additional charge. Find details on flight credit policies here.

Baggage fees (which vary by flight and destination, but generally are $30 for the first bag, $40 for the second) are charged to main cabin customers unless they have elite status or a co-branded credit card.

Credits and vouchers that expired between Jan. 1 and May 31, 2021, can be used for travel through March 31, 2022. American offers nonalcoholic beverages on all flights and food and alcoholic beverages on longer flights. More details here.

​British Airways (an AARP member-benefit provider) won’t charge a change fee for bookings made on or after March 3, 2020, for trips due to have been completed by April 30, 2022, although fare differences apply. Cancellation of more recent bookings is $10 online (free for Premium Economy and up) or $25 by phone. Changes to the date/time are free online or $25 by phone. Baggage fees vary by flight for Economy fares; two checked bags are included in the Premium Economy fare. Before traveling, customers will also receive details of how they can prepare for their journey, including information on discounted testing providers. (Be sure to check Great Britain’s latest entry rules. More details here.

Delta has eliminated change fees for many tickets on domestic and international flights originating in the U.S. Customers will need to pay any difference in fares, however; they’ll receive a credit for a future flight if they cancel.

Basic Economy fares can be cancelled or changed after a $99 fee for trips in the U.S, or to the Caribbean, Central America or Mexico, and a $199 fee for other international trips. In addition, these fares will not earn frequent-flier miles. 

Baggage fees (generally $30 for the first bag, $40 for the second) are charged to main cabin customers unless they have elite status or a co-branded credit card.

The airline offers snacks and limited beverage service on flights of more than 251 miles and more options on longer flights. More details here.

JetBlue Airways eliminated cancellation and change fees except for Blue Basic tickets, which will charge $100 or $200, depending on the route. Fare differences apply. Travel credits issued between Feb. 27 and June 30, 2020, for flight purchases remain valid for 24 months from the date issued. Others are valid for 12 months. Customers holding credits must use the funds before expiration; however, they are able to book any flight available in the airline’s schedule, even those beyond the expiration date. The airline offers full beverage service, and food and alcohol for purchase. 

​​Baggage fees ($35 for the first bag, $45 for the second) are charged to Blue Basic, Blue and Blue Extra customers unless they have elite status or a co-branded credit card. Blue Basic ticket holders are allowed only one personal item, to be placed under the seat in front of them. A traditional carry-on bag is not allowed and must be checked at the counter at normal bag rates unless the passenger has elite status, is traveling to or from London, or is combining a Blue Basic fare with an Even More Space seat (on all flight legs, if connecting). More details here.

​Southwest Airlines allows passengers who cancel their flights at least 10 minutes before the scheduled departure to receive a full refund for refundable tickets. For nonrefundable tickets, a customer will receive a travel credit for the full fare that is valid for up to one year from the date the original ticket was issued.

​Each customer is allowed two checked bags without charge, although size and weight limits apply. The airline offers nonalcoholic drink service on flights longer than 250 miles. Alcoholic beverage service remains paused. More details here.

​Spirit Airlines has no fee for changes made up to 60 days before departure, then charges progressively more closer to the date of departure. (The top fee is $99, for changes made within two days of departure.)

The airline offers food and drinks for purchase. Menus have been removed from planes but are available on mobile devices. Baggage charges are based on itinerary. More details here.

United has eliminated change fees for many tickets on domestic and international flights originating in the U.S. Fare differences apply. Basic economy tickets are nonrefundable and non-changeable, but passengers can upgrade to a standard economy ticket for $45, which entitles them to benefits including free seat assignments, a carry-on bag and the option to change the ticket without a fee. All passengers can also fly standby on earlier flights for the same destination on the same day at no additional charge. Flight credit for tickets issued between May 1, 2019, and Dec. 31, 2021, is valid through Dec. 31, 2022. Tickets purchased Jan. 1, 2022, and after will have a 12-month validity from the date of purchase.

In the economy cabin, alcoholic beverages are available on flights over an hour, and snacks can be purchased on flights over four hours. More is offered with premium tickets.

Baggage fees, which vary by flight, are charged to main cabin customers unless they have elite status or a co-branded credit card. Basic economy passengers on most routes are not permitted full-size carry-on bags. Full information can be found here.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on May 18, 2021. It's been updated to reflect new information.

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