Some airlines processing refunds outside ARC coronavirus

Eight airlines have informed ARC that they will manage
refunds directly and not allow them to be processed via GDSs or ARC’s
Interactive Agent Reporting (IAR) system.

The carriers are Air France, KLM, WestJet, El Al, TAP
Portugal, Air Transat, Kazakhstan-based Air Astana and Spain’s Plus Ultra
Lineas Aereas.

The changes come as refunds are far outpacing sales because
of the coronavirus pandemic. Travel advisors, said ARC, should contact the
airlines directly and follow their individual policies for refunds. 

ARC said it will update its own webpage as soon as it is
notified of any change in an airline’s refund process. The airline-owned
corporation also said that it recognizes the changes will impact the business
flow and processes of agencies, including records, back-office files and

“ARC settlement is designed to facilitate efficient sales,
exchange and refund processes between airlines and travel agencies. While we
are unable to process refunds for airlines that have made the decision to
manage these transactions directly, we are striving to make it as easy as
possible for agencies to quickly and efficiently contact airlines regarding
refunds,” the corporation’s website says. 

Columbus, Ohio-based travel agent Richard Lewis said he
worries that evolving policies by airlines will lead him to undertake
transactions that result in debit memos. 

“I can’t afford to fight a battle if I’m debited back by a
carrier,” he said. 

Peter Vlitas, senior vice president of airlines for Travel
Leaders Group, said that he expects cancellation rules to continue evolving. He
added that debit memos are on the rise. 

ARC declined to comment on debit memos.

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American Airlines parking some 450 planes coronavirus

In a message to American Airlines employees on Thursday,
president Robert Isom said the carrier has taken steps “unparalleled in our
history” to reduce capacity amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

International flying has been reduced by 75% in April and
domestic flying by 30%. Further reductions are planned for May. In all, 55,000
flights have been scrubbed from AA’s April schedule. The airline will park approximately
130 widebody jets and 320 narrowbodies.

All long-haul international flying has been grounded, except
once-daily service between London Heathrow and both Miami and Dallas/Fort Worth
plus thrice-weekly service between Dallas and Tokyo Narita. 

AA has offered voluntary leave to most employees. The
airline is also offering an early out so workers with at least 15 years at American who are ready to leave can keep their medical care at active employees’

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Some Caribbean resorts decide to suspend operations coronavirus

As Caribbean countries ramp up travel restrictions in
response to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, the region is seeing a wave of
temporary resort closures.

Club Med will suspend operations at its Club Med Punta Cana
and Club Med Miches Playa Esmeralda resorts in the Dominican Republic from
March 19 to May 1.  

Excellence Resorts will temporarily close the Excellence
Punta Cana from March 20 to June 5. Excellence said all guests who were
scheduled to stay during this period can be accommodated at the Excellence El
Carmen in Punta Cana.  

Both moves come as the D.R. has suspended the arrival of all incoming passengers and has
effectively closed its borders for an initial period of 15 days. The Dominican Republic had
previously suspended flights to and from China, South Korea, Iran and Europe.

Elsewhere in the Caribbean, Club Med is shuttering the Club
Med Columbus Isle in the Bahamas between March 21 and May 1. 

The Bahamas said on March 16 that the country is prohibiting
entry to any foreign nationals who have traveled in the U.K., Ireland or Europe
in the last 20 days. That restriction is in addition to the Bahamian government’s
March 5 decision to deny entry to any nonresident who has visited China, South
Korea, Iran or Italy in the last 20 days.

Meanwhile, Jamaican resort Half Moon has similarly announced
plans to shut down from March 18 to May 1, citing the Jamaican government’s
recent enactment of a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all travelers from
countries where there is local spread of the coronavirus.

The Bolongo Bay Beach Resort in St. Thomas advised future
guests arriving through April 12 to postpone their trips. For guests already at
the resort, Bolongo advised them to book earlier flights home while they are still

In Jamaica, the Riu Negril, Riu Palace Jamaica and Riu
Montego Bay are closing March 19 through April.

Also in Jamaica, Iberostar Hotels plans to consolidate
guests at its three properties in Montego Bay (Iberostar Grand Rose Hall, Rose
Hall Beach and Rose Hall Suites) to two properties.

In the Dominican Republic, the Royalton Punta Cana and
Hideaway at Royalton Punta Cana have relocated their guests to the Royalton
Bavaro Resort & Spa in Punta Cana with a room upgrade based on

In St. Maarten, the Sonesta Ocean Point Resort and Sonesta
Maho Beach Resort will close from March 22 to March 31 due to
government-imposed restrictions on travel to the destination.

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No coronavirus waiver? Some airlines have you more covered than others

a large passenger jet sitting on top of a runway

As coronavirus spreads, and fears about contracting the disease grow, airlines are increasingly giving passengers a chance to re-tool their travel plans by waiving change fees or allowing their customers to cancel even non-refundable tickets.

In many cases though, these opportunities come with some major restrictions. Most of the airlines that have issued waivers have only done so for specific city pairs, with further limitations on changes based on when the ticket was purchased and when travel is set to take place.

“Airlines that are not being flexible with customers are just asking for trouble. This is not the time for an airline to stick to policies that are designed for a time when circumstances are normal,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and president of Atmosphere Research. He added that right now, conditions in the industry are “not even in the same universe as normal.”

The decision to keep waivers more restricted is largely business-related for airlines. It allows them to encourage new bookings for passengers who might be worried about making reservations amid the rising coronavirus fears. But, that leaves some customers who made reservations months ago out of luck for potential changes.

“Some people are going to be inconvenienced, but that’s the nature of the beast. People are inconvenienced all the time. I believe the airlines are OK with inconveniencing a certain number of people, so long as it doesn’t become problematic for their bottom line,” said Ernest White II, host of Fly Brother on PBS and creator of the Fly Brother travel blog.

Still, Harteveldt said now is not the time for companies to be inflexible with customers who are worried about a spreading epidemic.

“If an airline is sticking to its policies, they’ll lose in the long run,” he said.

White said he understands the airlines’ business needs, but agreed with Harteveldt that the companies need to have compassion for their passengers. He suggested that airlines take each booking on a case-by-case basis, which many companies seem to be doing.

“When companies go the extra mile to try and be empathetic or recognize customer issues, it brings a lot of positive energy around the brand, people remember that,” he said.

For travelers, the array of different official and unwritten policies from each airline can be a confusing jumble, and that ultimately hurts airlines, too, Harteveldt said.

“Nobody likes being nickel-and-dimed and nobody likes being taken advantage of,” he said. “Consumers remember when companies are decent and fair to them, and they also remember when companies are not.”

Harteveldt believes most airlines will eventually issue system-wide waivers on change fees and cancellations while coronavirus remains an issue at the top of travelers’ minds. For his part, White wasn’t as sure. He said it’s important for airlines to be decent to their customers, but added that companies have some responsibility to protect their bottom line.

“It’s important for all sides to remember everyone is losing in this situation,” he said.

In the meantime, here’s what major U.S. airlines have said travelers can expect as of March 4 if their itineraries are not covered by an existing waiver:

American: No specific policy. Curtis Blessing, a spokesman for the airline said in a statement to TPG that passengers “can contact reservations if they have additional concerns.”

Delta: No specific policy. Anthony Black, a spokesman for the airline said in a statement to TPG that Delta offers “situational flexibility,” which, he said, “is always in play when there is not a policy to address a specific travel situation.”

United: Passengers who booked tickets before March 3 are not eligible to change or cancel their reservations if their itineraries are not covered by an existing waiver.

Southwest: The airline has a long-standing policy of never charging change or cancellation fees on any booking. “If a customer’s plans change, or they decide they no longer want to travel, the funds used to pay for their flight can be applied to future travel – as long as they cancel their flight at least 10 minutes prior to the scheduled departure,” Ro Hawthorne, a spokeswoman for the airline told TPG in a statement.

Alaska: No specific policy, but Cailee Olson, a spokeswoman for the airline, said in a statement to TPG that for itineraries booked prior to Feb. 27, “our agents are assisting guests on a case-by-case basis.”

JetBlue: The airline referred TPG to an online coronavirus post and did not provide a statement about bookings that fall outside of the published policy.

Hawaiian: No specific policy, but Alex Da Silva, a spokesman for the airline, said in a statement that “we understand guests with travel beyond current waiver periods could be concerned about their plans potentially changing due to the evolving COVID-19 situation, and we encourage them to contact our reservations team for assistance.”

For more on the coronavirus outbreak, see:

  • What does the deadly coronavirus mean for travelers?
  • Myth-busting: Will a face mask keep you safe from viruses on a plane?
  • Extreme measures cruise lines are taking

Featured photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

WATCH: Coronavirus and travel concerns (provided by KHOU-TV Houston)

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