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U.S. Airlines Ditch Covid-Era Ticket Flexibility


A Delta Air Lines A319 holds short as an American Airlines A321 departs Los Angeles (Photo: AirlineGeeks | James Dinsdale)

The COVID-19 vaccine has breathed new life into the American airline industry. People are finally beginning to feel comfortable flying again, and carriers are seeing a significant increase in future bookings. However, the surge in bookings and potential travel boom has led many airlines to ditch Covid-era ticket flexibility and reinstate strict, pre-pandemic fare rules. Although the decision is not surprising, customers need to remember to pay close attention to the terms and conditions before purchasing tickets.

Big Four Legacy Airlines Ditch Flexible Tickets

When the COVID-19 virus officially became a global pandemic, travel came to a sudden halt. Borders closed, entry restrictions were put in place, cruise ships anchored and airlines canceled thousands of flights and suspended hundreds of routes. With uncertainty set in, carriers were forced to offer flexible tickets to entice people to book flights. For over a year, customers could purchase airfare without worrying about losing the value of the ticket or being charged cancellation or change fees; however, it appears those days are over.

Airlines are scrapping flexible travel policies and reverting to pre-pandemic rules, meaning customers will need to pay attention to fare restrictions, especially those booking basic economy. In April, American Airlines became the first carrier to resume reservation restrictions when it made its basic economy fares non-changeable and non-refundable. However, the airline is still allowing changes for international flights originating outside North or South America through May 31 (with the exception of Asia). 

Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have also tightened ticket flexibility. As of May 1, all three carriers have scrapped their travel waivers for basic economy tickets and will revert back to non-changeable and non-refundable fares. Therefore, customers that worry about a new wave of COVID-19 affecting future travel should avoid booking the ultra-budget fare.

JetBlue Airways is the only airline still offering flexibility, which is currently set to expire May 31.

While the airlines mentioned above are eliminating flexible tickets, they have kept a few covid-era policies for non-basic economy fares. For example, last year, United permanently ditched change fees for domestic flights and several international destinations. Delta, Alaska and American quickly followed suit. Going forward, customers can make free ticket changes, though any fare difference will need to be paid. 

Travel Boom Expected This Summer

A travel surge is expected this summer, and airlines are preparing their flight schedules. United Airlines recently announced nonstop routes to Croatia, Greece and Iceland as the countries open their borders to vaccinated Americans. Meanwhile, the new Croatia-based startup airline Pragusa.One has announced plans to operate flights between Dubrovnik and the United States beginning June 21.

This travel boom will likely lead to airlines worldwide dropping flexible tickets and returning to pre-covid restrictions, such as change and cancellation fees. Gone are the days of worry-free bookings as the world returns to some level of normalcy.

Taylor Rains


  • Taylor Rains

    Taylor Rains graduated from Florida Institute of Technology with a B.S. in Aviation Management in 2017. She has worked in the aviation industry for the past five years and has a specialty in safety analytics for part 121 airlines, but she has also worked for a part 135 company in Alaska. Her experience has allowed her to work in many areas of aviation, including airport operations, flight operations, security, inflight, dispatch, and maintenance. Taylor is also an avid traveler and has used her flight benefits to fly on as many airlines and aircraft types as possible. So far, her favorite flight has been aboard KLM’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

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