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Airlines scramble as Bermuda braces

Airlines that service Bermuda have offered to waive fees for flight changes in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

British Airways, American Airlines, Delta, Jet Blue, Air Canada and WestJet have each announced they would waive change fees, although the details of the policies differ between the airlines.

British Airways has offered to waive change fees for any British Airways flight booked between March 3 and 31.

A spokesman said: “If you need to change the travel date on your booking, we are waiving all change fees — a fare difference may apply. This applies to any British Airways flight, in any cabin, whether booked directly with us or through a travel agent.

“If you need to cancel your flight, we will give you a voucher to the value of that flight which can be used across the British Airways network up to 12 months from the original date of departure.”

American Airlines, which offers flights to New York, Miami and Philadelphia, have waived change fees for tickets purchased prior to March 1 for travel through April 30.

Change fees for summer travel have also been waived for those who book their flights now.

Delta, which flies to New York, Boston and Atlanta, has waived change fees for all tickets purchased in March for travel before February 25 next year.

The airline also announced there would be no change fees for any previously purchased tickets to travel between March 1 and April 30.

Jet Blue, who fly to New York and Boston, announced that it would suspend change and cancel fees for bookings made between March 6 and 31 for travel through September 8, 2020.

Change/cancel fees for customers who had previously booked to travel between March 10 and April 30 have also been waived.

Air Canada, which offers service to Toronto, is offering a one-time change fee waiver for to tickets purchased between March 4 and 31, 2020 — provided all travel is completed before December 31, 2020.

WestJet, which also flies to Toronto, has offered a one-time change fee waiver for flights booked between March 3 and 31, 2020.

All of the airlines also announced that they had increased cleaning of their aircraft as a result of the pandemic.

• British Airways (London)

A spokesman said: “We fully understand that many of our customers want to change their travel plans given the evolving Covid-19 situation, so we have put a number of measures in place so that you can book with confidence with British Airways.

“We are giving additional levels of flexibility to customers with bookings made between March 3 and 31, 2020.

“If you need to change the travel date on your booking, we are waiving all change fees (a fare difference may apply). This applies to any British Airways flight, in any cabin, whether booked directly with us or through a travel agent.

“If you need to cancel your flight, we will give you a voucher to the value of that flight which can be used across the British Airways network up to 12 months from the original date of departure. (Changes exclude franchise airlines Comair and Sun-Air)

“The cleanliness of our aircraft is of utmost importance. We have reviewed and made changes to our cleaning programme for aircraft including increasing our cleaning teams and audit inspections. Our disinfectant cleaning fluids are used on every aircraft after each flight to thoroughly clean all hard surfaces in the cabins and lavatories.

“All our aircraft are fitted with HEPA filters which remove particulate and bacterial contamination and provide passengers with clean air. They provide the same level of air filtration as hospital operating theatres.”

British Airways has also cancelled flights to Beijing and Shanghai, China, reduced flights to Seoul, South Korea and Hong Kong.

The spokesman added: “One daily round trip flight from Heathrow to JFK in New York has been cancelled and the vast majority of cancellations are 342 short-haul flights from Heathrow.

“From Gatwick, BA is cancelling 14 destinations to northern Italy, France and Albania.”

The airline's chief commercial officer Andrew Brem said: “As some customers may choose to change or delay their travel plans at the moment, it is important that we offer them greater flexibility. By waiving the change fee our customers can have added confidence to book a trip with British Airways that suits them.”

• American Airlines (New York, Miami and Philadelphia)

Robert Isom, president of American Airlines, said in a statement the airline is working closely with US and international authorities to make sure they have up-to-date safety information.

He said: “To provide you with more flexibility and control, we have waived change fees for tickets purchased prior to March 1 for travel through April 30.

“If you buy summer travel now and have to change your plans later, we have waived those change fees as well.

“We also continue to adjust our schedule to provide you as much certainty as possible as you plan your travel with us. This week we announced several additional schedule changes to our Asia, Europe, South America and domestic network.

“Know that when we make these changes, our goal is to minimise the disruption to your lives.

“If your travel plans are disrupted, we will continue to make sure that you are reaccommodated and taken care of while we work through this period of uncertainty.

“You can always visit aa.com for the latest information from American, and if you need to change your travel plans, you can do so via our website and mobile app.”

He added that AA cleaning practices have always “met or exceeded” CDC standards, but the airline has increased cleaning procedures on international flights and aircraft that stay overnight at an airport.

Mr Isom said: “Every one of our planes receives enhanced cleaning at least once a day and an extensive cleaning on a regular basis.

“Most of our aircraft are also equipped with high efficiency particulate air filters that provide a complete air change every two to four minutes during flight, which is similar to the standard used in hospitals.

“We have provisioned hand sanitiser and hand sanitiser wipes, and we are regularly disinfecting our airport kiosks.”

• Delta (New York, Boston and Atlanta)

A notice on the airline's website said: “Nothing is more important to us than your safety. We have adjusted flight schedules to affected areas, waived change fees and are working with customers to adjust travel plans, using relationships with other airlines when needed.”

Change fees for all tickets purchased in March for travel before February 25, 2021 have been waived.

There will also be no change fees for those who were booked to travel between March 1 and April 30, 2020.

The notice continued: “We have consulted with the CDC, WHO and other health organisations to ensure we follow, and in many cases exceed, their guidance on health precautions related to coronavirus.

“Our aircraft cleaning teams are trained to meet Delta's high cleanliness standards to provide our customers with a safe and comfortable experience.

“Delta uses an EPA-registered disinfectant on all flights which is rated to combat many communicable diseases.

“Fogging procedures are being performed on all trans-Pacific flights arriving into the US We are working rapidly and have sourced additional machines to expand fogging to inbound international flights, prioritising trans-Atlantic inbound flights from markets with reported coronavirus cases.”

• JetBlue (JFK and Boston)

A JetBlue spokesman said: “While all of JetBlue's aircraft operate in the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America, we have activated our company's Pandemic Response Team to monitor the situation in real time and work with key stakeholders to determine any further action.

“Members of our team are working directly with health and security officials as well as industry groups, including Airlines for America and the International Air Transport Association for updates and best practices.

“Currently, we are stepping up our daily aircraft sanitation and cleaning procedures on our aircraft, adding disinfecting wipes for customers to use on-board, and more frequently sanitising common surfaces in our terminals.

“We are also promoting handwashing and healthy hygiene practices among our crew members and adhering to requirements and guidance from public health officials.

Jet Blue announced that it would suspend change and cancel fees for bookings made between March 6, 2020 and March 31, 2020 for travel through September 8, 2020.

Change/cancel fees for customers who had previously booked to travel between March 10, 2020 and April 30, 2020 have also been waived.

• Air Canada (Toronto)

Calin Rovinescu, president and CEO, said: “Like all of you, we've been monitoring the evolving global impact of the novel coronavirus and are in constant dialogue with Canadian and international health authorities.

“At Air Canada, our core value is safety first, always, for our customers and for our employees. So I'd like to share what we have been doing in our operation to uphold that commitment.

“At the airport, to promote a more hygienic airport experience, we have placed hand sanitisers in key areas such as check-in counters, gates and lounges. We also have constant reminders about the importance of hand washing.

“Before a flight if a customer who appears unwell attempts to check-in or board an aircraft, our agents will make inquiries of the customer in regard to their health.

“This can include consultation with our own medical desk and/or a third-party health provider. If they are unfit to travel, they will not be permitted to board.

“In the air, our aircraft are equipped with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters which effectively capture 99.9 per cent of particulate from recirculated air in the aircraft cabin.

“This includes microbial organisms such as bacteria and viruses. These filters are similar to those used in hospital rooms and like those in hospital rooms, they refresh the cabin air every two to three minutes.

“Coronaviruses are easily eliminated by routine surface cleaning and sanitisation. Air Canada uses cleaning products, including hospital-grade disinfectants which have a wide-spectrum microbial activity and are proven effective against human coronavirus.

“In response to market demand and extensive quarantine decisions, we've temporarily suspended or reduced service to more impacted areas such as the People's Republic of China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Italy. We will continue to adapt our schedule and route network as developments unfold.

“For those of you with upcoming travel, we announced a flexible rebooking policy for existing bookings by allowing a free one-time change.

“We also want to give you more freedom to travel and book with confidence, which is why we're waiving change fees on new bookings as well.”

The airline is offering a one-time change fee waiver will apply to tickets purchased between March 4 and March 31, 2020 provided all travel is completed before December 31, 2020

• WestJet (Toronto)

A spokesman said: “Safety is WestJet's top priority and we are committed to providing our guests and WestJetters a safe travel and work environment. We have provided proactive communications to all employee groups on effective preventive measures as recommended by the Centres for Disease Control, WHO and Transport Canada.

“We are monitoring the Coronavirus issue closely and will make decisions on operations with the safety of our guests and our crew at the forefront.

“WestJet is currently experiencing limited impact on our operations and bookings, particularly as we do not fly to Asia directly. However we have seen isolated cancellations on certain flights, which has had limited impact on our overall guest loads at this time. At this point we have not made any changes to planned flight schedules, but continue to monitor the situation.

“We have implemented the following flexible change policy for our guests for all new bookings made between now and March 31, 2020.

• All new flight bookings made between March 3, 2020 and March 31, 2020 will be allowed a one-time change fee waiver.

• The one-time change fee waiver is available for any itinerary change made more than 24 hours from departure.

“Should a guest present ill or fall ill during travel, our frontline teams and crews are trained to handle multiple scenarios and situations that can arise on the ground or on-board our aircraft and have access to real-time support of physicians at MedAire when requested.”

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Published March 13, 2020 at 9:09 am (Updated March 13, 2020 at 11:29 am)

Airlines scramble as Bermuda braces

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