Traveling has always come with complications, but the coronavirus pandemic has made it more challenging than ever. Our By The Way Concierge column will take your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the new normal. Want to see your question answered? Submit it here.
Travelers are usually offered a credit or voucher when coronavirus disruptions hit. Lots of airlines promote they’ve waived change fees or still offer flexibility on certain tickets. But refunds don’t get the same billing on airline websites.
That makes sense. Many customers will be fine getting a credit or voucher if it is with an airline they will fly again someday, and airlines don’t want to lose your cash. But they also don’t want people on their planes with the coronavirus, either (in fact, websites like Southwest’s spell this out: If you have the coronavirus, please don’t fly). Does that mean they will give you a refund if you test positive near your travel day? Most will at least consider it, but answers vary by airline:
Delta: You’ll have to get in touch with reservations and explain your situation to get a refund. According to a Delta spokesperson, there is no official rule or policy. Agents work with customers on a case-by-case basis.
Hawaiian Airlines: If you test positive, you can submit proof (like a doctor’s note or a test result from a reputable lab) through the airline’s website and someone from Hawaiian’s Consumer Affairs Office will grant refunds on a case-by-case basis. A customer service agent told me over the phone that it could take weeks to get a response to your claim, but the turnaround time depends on how many requests the office is dealing with at the time.
United: Coronavirus-positive customers can get a full refund if they submit a request to united.com/refunds with a positive test result showing the date, their name and testing provider’s name, or a doctor’s note.
Southwest: Customers who test positive before their flight can contact Southwest’s Customer Relations Team to appeal for a refund.
American Airlines: American had a pre-pandemic policy that customers dealing with illnesses or health-related issues before their flight may be able to get a refund depending on the circumstance. If you have the coronavirus and want a refund, contact the company’s reservations team to make your case.
The moral of the story is that even if an airline doesn’t make it clear on their website that you’re eligible for a refund, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get your money back.
If you get a positive result on a self- or home-test, either contact your doctor to get an official note proving your illness or go get a coronavirus test from a lab. Send your official coronavirus documents through airline customer service to get the ball rolling on your request.
Next, call the airline’s reservations line and brace yourself for a long wait to talk to an agent on the phone. (We have tips for getting through faster here.) Be as nice as possible. Customer service agents are being worked to the bone, so a little respect may go a long way. Still, be prepared to be firm about your request; you’d like a refund, not a credit or voucher.
If an agent denies your request, try again by calling back and asking the next representative. Hopefully you’ll find some empathy on the other line.
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