Flying is plagued with uncertainty after a federal judge threw out a federal mask mandate for airline passengers, only for the federal government to decide to appeal the ruling.
Hesitant travelers looking to cancel travel plans and get a refund won’t get much more clarity.
If the mandate to fly without a mask makes you nervous, some airlines will offer you a refund. Others won’t give you a break unless you have a refundable ticket, and some carriers say they’ll deal with refund requests on a case-by-case basis.
The federal mask mandate that was adopted last year was set to expire on May 3. But when a federal judge in Florida struck down the rule Monday, many airlines, airports and ride-hailing services like Uber quickly lifted the mask regulation, making mask wearing optional.
United Airlines Chief Executive Officer Scott Kirby told the “Today” show Thursday that his airline will be flexible with passengers who refuse to fly and demand a refund on a non-refundable ticket.
“For customers like that, who are immunocompromised or who have other concerns or issues, we’re working with those customers if they don’t want to fly,” he said.
United Airlines spokesman Josh Freed clarified in an email that passengers with “special circumstances” should call the customer service phone number. “We will work with them to find the best solution for them,” Freed said.
American Airlines offers refunds to some mileage rewards club members and travelers who purchase refundable tickets. But travelers who reserve the cheapest seats (basic economy) will not receive a refund simply because they are not comfortable sitting next to a seatmate without a mask.
An Alaska Airlines spokesman said the Seattle airline “will work with guests on a case-by-case basis if they don’t feel comfortable flying.”
At Southwest Airlines, the refund policy hasn’t changed: Passengers can cancel flights even with non-refundable tickets and use the value of those tickets to purchase future flights without paying fees.
A representative for Delta Air Lines could not be reached for comment.
On Twitter, the nation’s largest airlines received questions from passengers who said flying without a mask mandate is too risky.
“If airlines want to remove mask mandates, they need to provide refunds to people who no longer feel safe flying due to the removal of mask requirements.” a Twitter follower wrote.
Shortly after the start of the pandemic in 2020, most of the nation’s largest airlines required passengers to wear masks, but the policy wasn’t federally mandated until 2021, when the Biden administration imposed fines of up to $1,000 for a first offense. and as much as $3,000 per repeat offense on airplanes, buses, and other forms of public transportation. The new policy was supported by the nation’s airlines, including unions representing flight attendants.
With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations declining in recent months, the nation’s largest airlines have changed course, urging the Biden administration to abandon the mask mandate and remove other pandemic health protocols for international travelers.
The mask mandate was struck down Monday when a federal judge in Florida, appointed by President Trump, struck down the requirement, saying the rule exceeds the authority of US health officials in their response to the pandemic. of COVID-19. The situation worsened Wednesday when the Justice Department announced it would appeal the judge’s decision at the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC said in a statement that it is the agency’s “continuing assessment that an order requiring the use of masks in the interior transportation corridor for public health remains necessary at this time.”
Travel experts suggest that those who don’t want to fly now call their carrier to at least request travel credit for future flights.
“These people have a legitimate point of view,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group. “They can call their airlines and talk to an agent, explain why they can’t travel, and see if the agent will give them a refund.”