Reschedule Flight After Covid Exposure? No Fee Waiver If Your Test Hasn’t Come Back Yet

A JetBlue passenger learned he was exposed to Covid-19 and was supposed to fly the next day. Many airlines have dropped change fees from some fares, but this passenger was on a ‘Basic’ fare. He called JetBlue to find out what to do. He had taken a Covid-19 test, but wouldn’t get the results before he was supposed to fly.

He asked to reschedule his trip a couple of weeks into the future. He was told he’d have to pay a difference in fare and also a $100 change fee. JetBlue wouldn’t waive the change fee without presentation of a positive test.

  • He could fly, without symptoms, even though that seemed inadvisable.

  • He could gamble that he’d be positive, in which case he’d get his $100 back. But if it turned out he didn’t have the virus, he would be charged for making the change even though he was doing so to protect JetBlue employees and passengers.

I reached out to JetBlue for comment on their policies. And though they acknowledged the question, they haven’t yet responded with a statement. But this isn’t really about JetBlue (well, it is…). It’s about how airlines treat illness.

Indeed, it’s about how we all treat illness. Before the pandemic the CDC actually recommended foregoing travel if you had a fever over 100 degrees and other symptoms, but a fever alone wasn’t reason to cancel a trip in their medical opinion. And about half of people said they’d fly even if they had the flu.

Eliminating change fees helps with tickets, but basic economy tickets either aren’t changeable at all or require a fee in addition to fare difference.

We don’t want passengers to have to feel like they have to fly when sick, that they can’t raise their hand and say so, or taking an aspirin to bring down and hide a fever. The passenger bought a restrictive ticket, but it’s the other passengers and employees potentially exposed.

It’s actually a tough question, how to maintain the airline’s fare structure while recognizing that they do not want people who are sick traveling. Right now airlines aren’t doing enough to solve this.

A doctor’s note isn’t the answer (that can be as costly as a change fee, in time and money). Before the federal mask mandate Delta allowed medical exceptions to its mask policy – and required passengers to consult a physician virtually at the airport, arranged by the airline. That could be a model here: telemedicine through the airline’s website, no need to go to the airport and expose people.

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. Tells you everything you ever want to know about Jetblue. I have never flown them. Reading this, it sounds like a wise move on my part.
    (NOT LOST ON ME: That had they offered a change, the rabble that masquerades as our fellow travelers would quickly learn this is how you get a free flight change.)

  2. Why not just make those $20 OTC home testing kits available at all pharmacies? Tests don’t have to take hours to get results. In fact, the airline could keep a small stockpile on hand at the check in desk, if desired.

    Granted, that does NOT address the common cold, flu, etc. That’s a tougher nut to crack, but COVID should be a conquerable challenge.

  3. @jamesb2147 Unfortunately, those OTC rapid antigen testing kits have bad accuracy for these types of cases — the patient has no symptoms, and the test requires a certain amount of virus to be in the right place to trigger a “positive.” The general idea is that if you have symptoms, viral load is high enough that if it were sars-cov-2 the rapid test would be positive. If not, you really need a NAAT.

    This is really is an interesting conundrum. How to keep sick people off of planes without inviting everyone to use that an excuse when they want to avoid a change fee. Of course, the easy answer is to just eliminate change fees.

  4. Ensuring that people do not incur financial damage if they suspect they have been infected is the morally and financially right thing for business to do.
    Testing is the best strategy to reduce spread unlike mask wearing which has not been validated in real world settings in the covid reality in the United States.
    Delta just released a study showing that passengers on its previous covid tested international flights had a much lower rate of positivity than the general population at check-in. Mandatory covid testing clearly inhibits people who might be positive from traveling.

  5. This is just another example of why we should be limiting travel right now. Although hepa filters on planes are good, they will likely be riskier places as people who have covid or likely to have been in an exposure will perhaps still fly because of the financial consequences of changing travel plans.

  6. You know, many countries do contact tracing, and issue quarantine notices to people who meet the criteria for exposure. I mean, it didn’t help me (in the waiting room for a doctor who indiscriminately mixed symptomatic and asymptomatic patients, but we were wearing masks, so no tracing needed, although the contract tracers knew exactly which practice it was), but it does provide a legal basis before a positive test, which is what we want.

  7. Pre Pandemic I came down with a nasty bug in Zurich. Gastro and was not pretty and pretty sure it was viral as I also had a fever, sore throat, etc. I called BA and explained it to them and that I would get a hotel doctor to confirm and write up a note. To postpone two days later they wanted an additional $3K. Even with 14 business class seats empty on the LHR-IAD segment. Even with a doctors note. They essentially forced me to fly sick. When I asked them if their crews appreciate being exposed to whatever bug I had the response was, “They are used to it.”

  8. Unfortunately in today’s world people lie all the time, bold face without the slightest remorse. I think ppl need to take some responsibility and share in the financial impact from their decisions. To me, Jet Blue did fine. From my experience they are a pretty decent group to work with when an issue arises.

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