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Airlines Offer Refunds for Travel to Zika-Impacted Areas

Feb. 01, 2016
9 min read
Airlines Offer Refunds for Travel to Zika-Impacted Areas
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As you may have heard on the news, the Zika virus spreads from person to person by way of mosquito bite and although rare, it's possible for a mother to transmit the virus to her newborn child. In May 2015, the first alert of the virus was reported in Brazil — prior to that, the virus was typically only found in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. Although there have been no locally transmitted Zika cases within the US, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns of potential cases among travelers returning from affected areas and has issued a travel alert.

The regions with active Zika virus transmission include more than 20 countries throughout the Americas, Oceana and Africa. On January 15, the CDC issued a travel advisory — and more have since been added — to the following locations: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, the Guadeloupe Islands, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, the US Virgin Islands, Venezuela, Samoa and Cape Verde.

The CDC warns that one in five people infected with the virus will become ill — the most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes (similar to conjunctivitis, or pink eye). Although there are no vaccines or medications to prevent or treat the virus, it's best to drink lots of water, get plenty of rest and take fever-reducing medications.

Image courtesy of CDC.
These countries have reported active transmission of the Zika virus. Image courtesy of CDC.

The CDC's advisory encourages pregnant women to consider delaying travel to the affected areas to avoid potentially becoming infected. As a result, many major airlines have started issuing free refunds or rebookings in response to growing concerns.

Below, we've broken down their current policies for passengers with booked travel to areas included in the CDC's travel advisory. For carriers that are offering refunds, it appears that they're good for either pregnant women (and sometimes their companions) or all travelers, depending on which airline it is — some are offering refunds on a case-by-case basis whereas others appear to be issuing them to travelers on more broader terms.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska is offering passengers refunds.
Alaska Airlines is offering passengers refunds on travel to Zika-impacted areas.

The airline's official statement reads:

Alaska Airlines has implemented a flexible travel policy for customers with current reservations to the following destinations reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be affected by the Zika virus.
Liberia, Costa Rica (LIR), San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO), Cancun (CUN), Guadalajara (GDL), Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo (ZIH), Loreto (LTO), Los Cabos (SJD), Manzanillo (ZLO), Mazatlan (MZT), Puerto Vallarta (PVR)
If you are ticketed for travel to the above cities between January 28, 2016 and February 29, 2016, you may change your ticket to another Alaska Airlines destination for no change fee. Additional fare and taxes may apply. You may also request a refund if you choose not to travel at all.

Alaska Airlines says to call its reservations line at 1-800-252-7522 for assistance. Although this policy appears to be open to all travelers to receive a refund (not just pregnant passengers) it's best to call the airline if you're booked on a flight to one of the noted destinations and see what your options are.

American Airlines

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AA is offering refunds to pregnant travelers and their companions — as long as you have a doctor's note.

The airline's official statement reads:

If you are pregnant and scheduled to travel to a destination outside the U.S. that is affected by Zika virus, you and your travel companions can request a refund. To qualify, you must provide a doctor's note confirming your pregnancy and stating your inability to travel due to Zika virus.

A representative from the airline told us that the carrier is continually monitoring the situation to see if anything needs to be adjusted, but all requests are currently being reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Passengers must submit a request for refund through this website. AA strongly advises that you cancel your itinerary prior to departure to avoid being listed as a "No Show" on its records. For travelers who are trying to get pregnant, AA will consider a refund on a case-by-case basis provided the passenger has a doctor's note advising against travel to a particular destination affected by the virus.

Delta Air Lines

Delta is offering a refund on flights impacted by Zika.
Delta is offering refunds on flights impacted by the Zika virus.

The airline's official statement reads:

Customers with current reservations who are concerned about traveling to destinations reported by the CDC to be affected by Zika Viral Illness should call 1-800-221-1212 (U.S.) or your local Reservations office and speak with a Delta Representative.
Customers may qualify for a change to alternate destinations, travel dates or a refund. Customers may make fee-waived changes to future reservations/tickets. However, changes need to be made by February 29, 2016.

The key words here are that passengers "may qualify" for the refund, so Delta seems to be issuing them on a case-by-case basis but it's not clear who is eligible. Your best bet is to call the airline and check.

JetBlue Airways

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JetBlue is offering refunds for travel to Zika-impacted areas.

JetBlue, a popular choice for Caribbean travel, recently issued a statement regarding refunds:

Customers planning to travel should review the CDC alert, which recommends enhanced precautions rather than avoiding non-essential travel entirely. We will accommodate customers with concerns of traveling to Zika-impacted areas with a refund or rebooking.

Based on the wording of the airline's statement, it doesn't sound like refunds and rebookings are restricted to pregnant women, but it's best to contact JetBlue for more specific information.

Southwest Airlines

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Southwest is following the CDC guidelines and maintaining its no-change-fees policy.

The airline doesn't have an official statement listed on its website, but because of its already-lax requirements when changing flight reservations, the same rules apply. Southwest has stated that it will continue to follow the established CDC guidelines and as always, customers can change their travel itineraries without a change fee.

According to the airline's policy, customers can reschedule their flight itinerary with no additional fee and will only have to pay the cost of the fare difference.

Spirit Airlines

Spirit is offering
Spirit is also offering refunds for passengers who are traveling to Zika-impacted areas.

The airline's official statement reads:

Customers planning to travel to a country that has been impacted by the Zika virus may contact us here with questions about changes to their itinerary. For the latest updates, please visit the CDC Zika Virus travel information page.

The refund from Spirit also appears to be given on a case-by-case basis. According to ABCNews, a spokesman said that the airline will refund or rebook customers who are pregnant or traveling with a pregnant woman to Zika-impacted regions — other passengers who don't want to fly can opt for a credit with fees waived. We recommend calling the airline to see if you're eligible for a refund.

United Airlines

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United is offering refunds for customers as well.

The airline's official statement reads:

If you have a ticket for travel to a country affected by the Zika virus (as listed on the CDC website) and you are concerned about your travel, please contact the United Customer Contact Center with questions or to change your reservation. Customers who are advised to avoid the affected regions based on CDC guidance may change their destination or travel date without a change fee or may choose to receive a refund. The ticket must be refunded or changed by February 29, 2016. The new travel date must be within the validity of the ticket. Additional charges may apply if there is a difference in fare for the new itinerary.

A United representative said that the offer was intended for pregnant women and those expecting to become pregnant, as well as their travel companions, however other customers can also call the airline if they are concerned about travel to affected areas.

Virgin America

Virgin America is offering waivers
Virgin America is offering waivers to pregnant passengers.

The airline's official statement reads:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a list of affected countries that have reported transmission of the Zika virus infection. Mexico is the only destination that Virgin America serves that is included on the CDC's list. Guests who are pregnant and traveling to Cancun International Airport (CUN), Puerto Vallarta International Airport (PVR) or Los Cabos International Airport (SJD) can call our contact center at 877.359.8474 to receive a travel waiver.

It appears that Virgin America's policy is only for pregnant passengers, but it's worth calling to see if you're eligible to receive a travel waiver.

Bottom Line

Information seems to be changing often so it's best to check with your airline if you have specific questions about refund eligibility or general concerns about traveling to Zika-affected areas. Each airline's policy seems to be different — some are allowing refunds and rebookings on a case-by-case basis while others seem to be more flexible. Again, it's probably best to call your airline if you're planning to visit one of the destinations mentioned by the CDC, as they'll be able to give you the most accurate, up-to-date information, especially if you're dealing with a more restricted refund policy.

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