As fears about the coronavirus outbreak grow, more people are reassessing their travel plans, both domestic and abroad. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Global air travel is expected to decline for the first time since 2009.

US-based airlines are extending waivers and reducing flight capacity to Europe after President Donald Trump announced a sweeping travel suspension on March 11. Two days later, American, Delta, and United Airlines said they will start capping fares on several US-bound flights for Americans rushing to fly home in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.

“We are placing caps on our fares for all cabins on flights from Europe to the US that are affected by the government-imposed travel restrictions,” an American Airlines spokesperson told CNBC.

Several carriers also announced cuts in service to domestic routes, as airlines are buckling down to reduce overhead costs. American, Alaska, Delta, and United are expanding and waiving some change and cancellation ticket fees for both domestic and international flights as people reassess their travel plans. Be sure to read the terms and conditions of these waivers, but most airlines are now allowing travelers who booked international and domestic flights to make changes without charge.

Airlines are changing their flight policies and schedules as the situation develops, so check the website of your carrier for more specific information. These are the latest airline updates as of March 13, including fee waivers, refunds, reduced flights, and the dates they currently extend to:

  • American Airlines will waive change fees for passengers who’ve bought a ticket prior to March 1 for travel through April 30. It’s suspending flights to Milan, Italy, through April 24, and halting operations to and from Seoul, South Korea, in addition to cutting routes to Europe. The carrier is expected to reduce 34 percent of its international flight capacity into summer’s peak travel season. Read all of American’s travel updates here.
  • Alaska Airlines will waive fees for tickets purchased between February 27 and March 31, which applies to any travel through June 30. Customers will also be able to cancel or change any flight through March without fees, regardless of purchase date. The policy applies to all of its fares, including its “saver fares,” which generally don’t allow changes or cancellations. Read more on Alaska’s travel advisories and its plane cleaning measures here.
  • Delta will waive fees for all international and domestic flights through April 30, if customers purchased tickets on or before March 9. The policy also applies to flights purchased in the month of March. The airline allows passengers to make a one-time change through May 31 for trips to Shanghai and Beijing, China; Seoul, South Korea; and Europe and the UK. Read more on Delta’s travel updates here.
  • JetBlue will waive all change or cancellation fees for all flights through April 30. Passengers will be able to rebook their flights through October 24. Although the airline primarily serves a domestic market, it’s expected to cut its capacity by 5 percent, Reuters reported.
  • United will allow all passengers scheduled to travel through April 30 to change their flights without a fee. The airline will suspend flights between the US and Beijing, Chengdu, Hong Kong, and Shanghai through April 30. Starting in April, United will also reduce domestic routes by 10 percent and international flights by 20 percent. Read more on United’s travel alerts here.

According to the International Air Transport Association, demand for global air travel will decline for the first time since 2009, and airlines could lose up to $113 billion in revenue if Covid-19 continues — a forecast that suggests the outbreak could disrupt the industry as significantly as the Great Recession. Already, conferences and sporting events have been put on hold, and high-profile companies are taking precautions to limit employee travel.

Since January, airlines have been reducing service and offering waivers to travelers to mainland China, but with the virus’s ongoing spread, more and more passengers are hesitant to board a plane. British airlines have also canceled hundreds of flights throughout March.

As I previously reported, the travel industry is usually hit the hardest by pandemic threats. People are choosing not to travel, and politicians in cities and countries around the world are clamoring to secure their borders against the threat of a spreadable disease. During the 2003 SARS outbreak, which affected more than 8,000 people, stocks of US airlines dropped more than 30 percent (as did the economy overall), Barron’s reported.

Austin Horowitz, senior aviation management consultant at the global consulting firm ICF, previously told me that the financial effects of a major flight suspension “would not be much greater than people electing not to travel” since airlines are “already losing a significant number of passengers because people are not traveling voluntarily.”

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Author: Terry Nguyen

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