The coronavirus pandemic has brought an unprecedented time of change and cancelation flexibility with all of the major airlines. While the situation is changing daily – and sometimes hourly – it's you can change or cancel almost any existing reservation for a waiver for any travel through April.
But just because the airlines are waiving change fees doesn't mean the process is easy. With anxiety running high, airlines have been swamped with calls and messages, leading to hours (if not days) of delays to get a final answer. And in some cases, airlines' systems aren't yet able to handle these changes online – requiring an extra step and causing more frustration.
Delta is specifically asking to leave phone and message lines clear unless your request is urgent, as are other airlines. Getting an agent to help via phone or Twitter direct messaging is proving to be extremely difficult.
At a minimum, expect long wait times of six-plus hours – if not much, much more.
Here are four tips to help you navigate the process of changing or canceling an existing flight reservation amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Be Patient and Let the Airlines Catch Up
We've contacted both Delta and American Airlines over the past few days with change and cancelation requests. Both airlines' phone lines are absolutely slammed. In fact, we received messages that “call volume is too high, and to try calling later.” There hasn't even been an option for a callback line in some cases.
The experience hasn't been much better via Twitter direct messaging – oftentimes a much faster way to deal with airline issues than picking up the phone and calling their customer service line. In our experience, requests that typically take minutes were taking up to 12 hours or not answered at all.
The airlines' systems are simply overwhelmed. And unless your flight is scheduled to depart in the next few days, we recommend waiting at least a week or two before contacting them about a date change or a cancelation.
Don't Cancel or Change Online
Airlines are granting these change and cancelation waivers to reassure anxious travelers – and convince them to keep buying tickets. Delta was the first major U.S. carrier to apply these waivers retroactively for upcoming travel, though other airlines have eventually matched that policy.
But actually getting these waivers has proven more complicated. The airlines are not set up to issue them or to waive cancelation fees online. It requires a manual touchpoint with a customer service agent at the airline to get this processed correctly.
Canceling online will create more work as you will need to call the airline or contact them via Twitter to have them remove the cancelation or change fee. It's best to have a customer service agent help you out.
Use Twitter Direct Messaging
In our experience, there is no easier or faster way to sort out a problem with your flight than direct messaging an airline on Twitter. And if you don't have a twitter account, it could be worth setting one up just to get a private line into the airline employees who can help you out.
And amid the coronavirus outbreak, it might be your best bet on getting through to the airline for help with your reservation. As mentioned, even the dedicated customer service lines for the airlines' elite flyers are currently slammed – requiring 6 hours or more of waiting time for an agent to help you out.
Yesterday, I was unable to get through to the American Airlines customer service line. It simply said call volume was too high and to try again later before automatically disconnecting the call. I sent my request to their twitter account via direct messaging, and while it took almost 12 hours, I was able to get an agent to help me out and cancel our flights.
Our flights were scheduled to depart today (March 12). And as mentioned above, if you have time to wait, give it a few weeks before contacting the airlines. They are slammed.
If you don't have time, Twitter is likely your best bet if you can't get through to via phone, or try both and see which is faster.
We won’t list all the accounts here, but here’s a smattering of some of the largest airlines on Twitter.
Be Nice to Customer Service Agents
Long wait times can be frustrating. But it is important to remember that the situation we are dealing with isn't the customer service agent's fault. They are just as frustrated as you are. This is unprecedented, and these agents have a lot of power to help you out and adjust your travels – or not if you're unpleasant.
We always say that kindness is a superpower and can go a long way to help you quickly resolve your travel issues. Crack a joke, tell them you appreciate the work they are doing, spread some love. We all need it right now.
While the airlines are offering free changes and cancelation vouchers for flights due to the coronavirus outbreak, the process of actually getting it taken care of is proving to be difficult. If you have time, be patient. Wait a few weeks for the airlines' systems to catch up.
If your flights are departing within the next few days, Twitter will likely be your best bet.
Lead photo courtesy of Chris Lundberg via Flickr.