If you refuse to take a crowded flight, can you get a refund?

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With photos of packed flights in circulation online, many prospective travelers have safety-related questions despite the precautions that airlines claim to take during the coronavirus outbreak.

A major concern right now: can you get a refund or postpone your flight for free if you choose not to stay on a crowded plane?

Stephanie Ruhle, NBC’s Senior Business Correspondent, answered this question TODAY, saying that “most airlines are broadly improving cancellation policies to help people who are planning to travel.”

Below are details of specific flight change and cancellation policies for passengers who check in, get to the gate, and choose not to take their flight because the plane is too full.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines will “rebook passengers who are uncomfortable with flying for any reason” or will offer them credit for future travel on another flight, a statement told TODAY. The airline also blocks the middle seat in larger aircraft and the aisle in smaller aircraft.

Relatives: “Be emotionally and psychologically prepared … to hold back,” said Rick Steves.

American Airlines

In a statement to TODAY, American Airlines said that it “waived change fees for all customers who booked until September 20, 2020”, and that applies to customers who have already checked in for their flight. Customers can use the full amount of the ticket to rebook immediately or later. However, the trip must be completed by the end of 2021. Customers can change the origin and destination of the trip if necessary.

Delta Airlines

A spokesman for Delta announced TODAY that the number of seats in First Class is limited to 50% and in all other cabins to 60%. However, if a passenger still does not feel comfortable, the airline books the person to recharge for another flight to the same destination free of charge.

Frontier Airlines

Frontier also prevents flights from getting too crowded by “blocking a set number of medium seats on each flight,” a spokesman said in a statement TODAY. Individuals can also choose a seat next to an empty one before the flight.

When asked for details about passengers who still want to change or cancel, the airline did not immediately respond to the request for a comment.

Hawaiian Airlines

In an online chat, a customer service representative told TODAY that customers who made a reservation between March and May can rebook their itinerary without a change fee, but there may be price differences. The airline will also try to accommodate seated passengers on the next available flight with no change fee.

The Hawaiian Airlines website also states that passengers who do not cancel before their flight and “do not take their scheduled flight” will automatically be credited for future trips.


“If a customer doesn’t even want to travel to the airport, they simply notify a crew member who is working with them to postpone their trip or provide travel credit for future use,” said JetBlue TODAY. The airline will also block all middle seats until July 6, with the exception of parties traveling together.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest allows passengers who have purchased non-refundable tickets but who choose not to travel to use the fare on another flight within one year of the date of purchase – provided the passenger cancels within 10 minutes of the original flight’s departure it on the website.

Spirit Airlines

In general, according to its website, Spirit Airlines waives cancellation fees for guests whose travel plans are affected by COVID-19. The company did not immediately respond to the request for comment on whether this applies to travelers who choose to cancel or re-book shortly before departure.

United Airlines

Ruhle reported that United allows passengers who do not wish to board packed flights to rebook another flight or receive credit.

If you have travel insurance, you may also receive compensation from the provider. Simply check your policy and date of purchase before submitting a claim related to the coronavirus, as many insurance companies quote January 21, when COVID-19 became a designated event, as the deadline.

This story was updated on May 24, 2020 at 2:55 p.m. to include a statement from Alaska Airlines.


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