Long hold times? American, Delta and United have you covered
If you're getting ready to call an airline to alter your travel plans in light of the coronavirus outbreak, you should gird yourself for an unusually long wait.
Airlines are reporting excessive hold times as travelers affected by coronavirus-related schedule changes get in touch about their options. Still more are phoning in to take advantage of waivers, looking to change their plans to travel once the outbreak has subsided.
Some travelers trying to contact their airline by phone on the day of their flights may be faced with hold times so long, that their planes will have already taken off by the time they get through to an agent.
Under normal circumstances, if you don't show up to the airport and then try to rebook your flight later, you could face a steep fee or other complications in rebooking. But in the time of coronavirus, airlines are giving customers a little extra leeway.
First and foremost, the general advice is to avoid calling an airline's customer service number if your travel isn't imminent.
“We’re asking customers, if you don’t have imminent travel in the next 72 hours — so long as it falls within the parameters of the waiver — to hold off from calling so we can help the people with the most immediate travel plans," said Anthony Black, a spokesman for Delta Air Lines. He told TPG in an interview that customers will be accommodated under the existing waivers even if they aren't able to get in touch with a reservation agent ahead of their flight. Black emphasized that it's most important to keep the reservation phone lines as clear as possible for people with close-in travel plans.
American Airlines issued similar guidance.
"The majority of passenger are calling us just to cancel, and want to ensure they can still use the full value of their tickets (without change fees) in the future. The answer is they can cancel on aa.com, and call us back at a later time to rebook without change fees," Ross Feinstein, an American spokesman, said in a statement. He added that customers who can't get through on the phone will still be accommodated under American's waivers, but said that it's easier to rebook on the airline's end if passengers cancel before they miss their flight. He emphasized that passengers covered by the waiver will not be penalized if they miss their flight, but the rebooking process will be much more streamlined if they can cancel online before the plane takes off.
Like American and Delta, United Airlines is also letting travelers cancel tickets and apply a credit toward future bookings.
The carrier encouraged travelers to cancel their itineraries prior to travel on United’s website or mobile app, and Leslie Scott, a spokeswoman for the airline, suggested that the company's phone lines have an automated message about how to do so.
Scott said United's general policy is that passengers who do not show up for their flight have their itineraries voided, but added that, as with all other coronavirus-related travel complications, each situation will be handled by the airline on a case-by-case basis.