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.