Right now, with the U.S. slowly crawling out of the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, airlines are willing to do almost anything to get us to make reservations.
- You want a refund for the flight we canceled? No problem (well, maybe not no problem at all, but you know what I mean), but if you let us send you a voucher instead, for a limited time we’ll honor it for two years instead of just one!
- You want to change your flight? Sure, we’ll do that and we’ll even waive the change fee for now!
It’s doubtful the airlines will always be this altruistic. The mere fact that they update the end date of the “wave the change fee” offer only on a monthly basis suggests that sometime in the not-too-distant future, the airlines won’t be so desperate for our money. And then all these fees will be back.
Or will they?
JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes recently spoke at a webinar hosted by the Washington Post. The talked about “all the things” in today’s virus-laden aviation world – consumers’ fear of flying in the days of 2019 Novel Coronavirus, health, and what JetBlue is doing to make people feel safe when they fly.
The topic of how to give passengers the confidence to fly again, in the short term, came up. This is what Hayes had to say about what they did in terms of making changes to flights:
…making sure our customers didn’t fly when they didn’t feel well. So, giving our customers the ability to rebook, change the dates of their flights without penalty.
Later on, the interviewer, Frances Stead Sellers, asked flat out, “Will cancellation and change fees come back?” Hayes’ response was something I truly didn’t ever expect to hear from an airline CEO:
…But you know, in terms of–you know, and I think you hear a lot of people talk about what’s temporary, what’s permanent, I do think that airlines are going to have to rethink, you know, how they sell their product, because it’s not ever going to be really acceptable, I don’t think, for someone who is unwell to feel that they’ve been made to fly.
A few minutes later Hayes followed up his thoughts by saying:
And so, I think airlines are going to have to think about how they, you know, monetize their fare structure, how they create products that give people the ability to change flights more easily than perhaps they felt in the past they could.
Here’s a transcript of the webinar.
My take on it
Unfortunately, for those of us who choose to fly, COVID-19 is going to be an issue for a while. At least until we have proper medical treatment and/or a vaccine for it. So figure a minimum of several months to a year, if not significantly more than that.
Meanwhile, for better or for worse, people sometimes fly when they’re sick. They may not necessarily have coronavirus, but think of all the times you or your family has flown when you/they haven’t been feeling well. Like that time when you got a really bad sunburn the day before you went home. Or you brought your kids on the plane when they both had colds. I remember that time I flew with a massive sinus infection. All three of those can cause a fever.
Now let’s say you have one of those maladies that are (A) usually not the end of the world, (B) happen relatively often in peoples’ lives, and (C) are historically not a reason to not fly. They take your temperature before you go on the plane and you have a fever of 100.9. The cutoff is 100.4. So now what? Will they deny you boarding? If so, why would anyone pay for an airline ticket (at any time, really but especially during cold and flu season) when they could be forced to not fly because, for example, their kid has a cold and their temperature is above 100.4? Especially if they then have to turn around and pay a $200+ change fee per person?
If airlines are going to stick to using thermometers to determine if someone potentially has COVID-19 or not (and really, it’s not the best idea. Until they have proper testing, they’re going to miss a whole lot of people who are positive for the virus), they’re going to have to do something about change fees.
And before you say, “that’s what insurance is for,” you’re right, being sick and unable to fly indeed is what travel insurance is for. But can you imagine how inundated travel insurance companies will be if every person who wasn’t allowed to fly because they had a cold made a claim? They’d either go bankrupt or have to raise their rates through the roof.
I don’t know what the right answer is, but obviously more changes are still going to need to happen in the longer term of this “new normal.” If airlines want us to have the trust to fly without having to worry about $200+ change fees for having a sinus infection, then maybe airlines will take Hayes’ opinion to heart.
If nothing else, it will be interesting to see what his company, JetBlue, ultimately does with their change fee.
#stayhealthy #staysafe #washyourhands
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary