After a very brief period of decision-making, American, Delta and US Airways quickly matched United’s domestic change fee hike from $150 to $200 per ticket, plus any fare difference.
JetBlue and Virgin America, for now, remain at $100. Southwest still hasn’t announced change fees, though later this year, no-shows on Southwest will lose ticket value unless they cancel their reservation.
In any case, I’m not joking about the fees being potentially hazardous to your health. Here’s why.
Business travelers who have to change tickets for any reason, including illness, will no doubt charge the penalties to their company.
But individuals on a budget and families traveling together are going to have even more motivation to get on their scheduled flights, no matter how badly they are feeling.
Because while some international tickets have waivers for documented illness (which may or may not require hospitalization) domestic tickets have no such waiver.
To be fair, part of this is the traveling public’s fault, as in the old days everyone simply asked their family doctor for a note, regardless of what the reason for cancellation was.
Then, airlines tightened up. They decided, if a plane isn’t canceled, seriously delayed due to weather or the passenger themselves doesn’t die, the change fee applies.
So what we now have is a situation where if a family of four is flying, at best it will cost $800 to change the tickets. Which means if a kid is physically able to fly, they are quite likely to try to travel as booked.
Personally, I’ve only had one case where I KNOW parents took a probably contagious child on a trip. While I know it was irresponsible, they told me they couldn’t afford the change fees and prices. Plus, an airline agent on the phone also declined to help them.
In discussing this post with friends and clients, though, I heard more than one person say they had done something similar, or would if the alternative were expensive enough.
Many people of course will suck it up and pay the new fees, even if it’s a stretch to afford them. Some travelers will start buying insurance.
Many others, however, will just book that once or twice a year vacation, and hope for the best, figuring, as one client said, “If we can walk or stagger on the plane, we’re going.”
The whole fee structure could use reworking — a change months in advance when the airline has plenty of time to resell the seat really isn’t the same as a last minute cancellation, for example.
However, in the meantime, the airlines should at least look at some fee reductions or waiver for real illnesses, perhaps documented by a medical bill similar to what insurers require.
It wouldn’t just be good public relations, it might help healthy travelers stay that way.