Demand Flexibility For Basic Economy Fares When The Passenger Gets Sick!

President Biden declared the pandemic over. We have vaccines and treatments and significant levels of background immunity, so it’s certainly not 2020 anymore. A nasal vaccine as booster could work as a variant-resistant pan-coronavirus vaccine that does a far better job limiting transmission than first-generation vaccines and variant boosters.

Most people have gotten back to normal. That includes the airlines, judging from the photos all over twitter of dirty planes. Pandemic travel waivers are over, and basic economy fares are back.

If you buy a basic economy fare and test positive for Covid-19 you generally aren’t entitled to delay your trip. If you choose not to take your flight, to prevent spreading the virus, you’re out the money. That is an incentive practically designed to bring Covid-positive passengers onto the aircraft.

The Department of Transportation is working on new rules for passenger flexibility how are they not including this in the discussion?

For its part, an American Airlines spokesperson tells me,

We do allow customers who provide our Customer Relations team a positive Covid test a one-time change within the ticket validity period. So they do not lose the full value of the ticket.

That doesn’t appear to have been offered here and the issue goes far beyond Covid-19. Indeed maybe it’s appropriate for airline to treat Covid-19 like flu at this point. Hospital ICUs aren’t overwhelmed, and flexibility isn’t necessary to encourage people to book tickets. But flying while sick was something we should have been discouraging even before the pandemic, and it’s a lesson we should be taking away as well.

Years ago I sat next to a man with a bright red, almost glowing eye on a United flight from Washington Dulles to Los Angeles. Today I’d have excused myself, sought another seat. The plane wasn’t 100% full, but if it was I’d have gotten off while the doors were still open. In my early 20s I lacked the confidence. I wound up with a dendritic ulcer in my eye.

I’ve hated flying in flu season. Some people crumple up tissues in the middle seat next to them on Southwest Airlines, hoping nobody wants to take the seat and they get an empty middle. But someone who is actually sick? I genuinely don’t want to sit there. I was even a fan of ‘double masking’ long before SARS-CoV-2!, at least for other people (and would have worn a mask myself, but it didn’t feel socially acceptable in the U.S. the way it is in Asia prior to the pandemic).

Many people feel it’s acceptable to travel when they’re sick (and contagious). Or it’s too costly for them to make a different choice. We need to reduce the cost of better decision-making, and we need to change the culture to one where we do not intentionally infect others.

I’m not afraid of Covid at this point. But I see little reason to spread it, flu, RSV and other ailments unnecessarily. Surely a positive lab test or doctor’s note for a communicable virus ought to be enough to allow travel flexibility – as a published policy regardless of airline. This isn’t uniquely a travel question although it clearly comes up in travel. It’s a problem for offices that have mandated return to work. It’s a problem for customer-facing businesses. It’s not just about protecting customers, but employees too. Why create a system that encourages customers to get each other and your employees sick?

I wouldn’t accept the answer that ‘you bought basic economy, tough luck’ I’d certainly escalate. Most people won’t and they should not have to.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary Leff, Covid-19 is NOT like the flu. So far, only 700 people have died from the flu. 700 people die from Covid-19 in about 40 hours, less than 2 days.

    The pandemic is not over. Covid-19 is serious.

  2. The pandemic isn’t over. But people soon forget. Unfortunately, as we pass through fall and into winter, we will have to wait and see, to fully understand if the numbers of infections are going to increase and how many of those may end up in hospitals or worse, die. With the virus mutating, this very well could be the new normal. Up and down. Some with minor symptoms. Others with more serious health issues. But I don’t expect anything to be different. People will continue to not care. Continue to refuse to mask up when necessary. Not get tested. And even to go to work when sick. After all, if it’s just as simple as cold or flu-like symptoms, who the hell cares about the other guy?

  3. Then stay home clowns. Even Biden said the “pandemic is over.” Too funny how these screeching fools still cling to the Wuhan Flu almost three years in.

    I guess something has to give their miserable little lives meaning…

  4. Passengers should not travel while infectious and should not need a doctor’s note to prove they are unwell. Flight crews becoming sick or hospitalized from a contagious disease increase aggravating flight cancellations. Therefore, your airline may need help finding a flight crew for your return flight.

  5. @Magnifico “Too funny how these screeching fools still [call it] the Wuhan Flu almost three years in.”

  6. It’s amazing this f…ing idiot still hasn’t figured out the scam. He actually still believes most of the nonsense promulgated during the fraud. With basically everything now proven to be a lie, when will he admit he was wrong?

  7. Gary, so just to make sure I understand: American says they have a secret COVID waiver that covers BE passengers, assuming the passenger knows (or is told) to contact Customer Relations? And who knows how long this waiver will exist, or what exactly “a one-time change” to a BE ticket means.

    I haven’t hand to contact AA Customer Relations in quite some time, so I genuinely don’t know: is it even possible to reach Customer Relations or the folks necessary to authorize this waiver on the phone/chat? Or do you just have to send in a message and trust that this will all work out after the fact?

  8. Which lie and what proof? Trump won (hmm. no proof). Earth is flat? Cigarettes are good for you? Obama is a Kenyan Colonialist? Trump didn’t incite an insurrection? Covid is a nothing? Even if you are immunocompromised? Those million Americans died for a hoax. The stupid people take up an awful lot of air—on travelblogs !?

  9. @gary – I have followed your blog for years. I have great respect for what you do.

    I agree with your take that basic economy should have a waiver for obvious common sense items like this.

    However, you are not an infectious disease epidemiologist. And your opinion on items related to travel and covid results in the appearance of just throwing raw meat to the fools on this blog that a would deny even basic germ theory in their attemp to “own the libs”.

    Realize that these folk want nothing more than to be an annoying pebble in your shoe. Everyone’s shoe. As many shoes they can. They are like the loud annoying drunk at the end of the bar that have been there so long that that is now their home.

    While masks are inconvenient, in the two years when we masked for covid, influenza was nearly nonexistant.

    This year, without masks, now we have 2600 still dying weekly of covid, an epidemic level of influenza, and RSV outbreaks in children.

    For those on twitter, a qualified voice on this matter is Dr. Tara Smith – @aetiology

    Have a good day.

  10. And a couple more “true believers” enter the fray. How is it possible there are still people who haven’t figured this out? Is it ignorance or simply an inability to admit they were fooled?

  11. @James N
    Of course you’re here Jimmy boy promulgating your f…ing nonsense as usual. You’re like a little kid wanting to be slapped on the back by daddy. Must be nice to be a Chump Fool.

  12. I’m with AA on this.
    Passengers should buy travel insurance. I don’t know about the U.S. but in Canada it is easily and inexpensively available.

  13. Hey, Rog, the idiot. Have you figured out the lies yet? Let me help.

    Lockdowns: Abject failure. Caused more harm than good. Basically worthless.
    Mask: Complete failure. Did little, to nothing, to stop the spread.
    Social distancing: Nothing needs to be stated.
    And finally, the “vaccines”: The most obvious is, that they aren’t. Not only do they not stop transmission, they are more dangerous than all other actual vaccines combined. What a huge success, for Pfizer and Moderna.

    Bottom line, everything I’ve been claiming for the past almost three years has been proven correct and you have never been able to refute my arguments.

  14. @james n – you are that pebble.

    You are the voice of fascist America, with bloodlust in your eye, spittle from your anger, and a tiki torch in hand to burn it all down. If you could knock over an old woman to pick up a quarter you would.

    You have done your own research and decided that ignorance snd misinformation is the way to go. Hooray you.


  15. And now we get a lame, embarrassing performance from Zebraitis. Can you refute anything I wrote in my previous post? Instead of demonizing me with your weak-minded ad hominem, tell me which part of my “research” is incorrect.

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