Ever since the outbreak of the coronavirus went international, it has been a frustrating and challenging time for companies in the travel sector. Airports have limited flights, borders have closed, cruise ships have been kept in port or kept out of ports, all while tourists and business travelers are frightened, worried, and unsure of their next move.
Many have chosen – or been forced to – change, delay, or cancel their flights, trips, cruises, or other travel plans. Sometimes, they’ve had to eat the fees they paid in booking travel to do so. All in all, there just haven’t been many reasons for people in these situations to smile. Enter American Airlines.
Last week, the airline announced that it is “suspending” the fees the company typically charges to change or cancel a flight. While the company did not directly mention the coronavirus when it made this announcement, everyone pretty much immediately understood the motivation for the move.
The timing is smart for the airline. Spring break and the busy Easter travel season are both very close, and many wary travelers have adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward booking travel. If they wait, airlines don’t know what their situation will be. Now, travelers on American won’t be penalized if they book a flight then have to cancel or change plans.
Some market watchers and travel agents have come right out and said that canceling or waving the change fee is “the only way” to get hesitant travelers to go ahead and book those flights. Why is this a big deal? Because change fees can run several hundreds of dollars on some flights, though most same-day change fees average around one hundred dollars.
There are some restrictions, so travelers should go to the American Airlines website and/or social media to see if they qualify for the fee waiver. However, that’s a minor inconvenience when the alternative is getting stuck with a fee that could mean less spending money on vacation or additional business travel expenses.
American is not the only airline offering this kind of proactive customer service. JetBlue recently announced a similar fee waiver, though the company told everyone it was related to the coronavirus. In this case, the brand used the announcement to calm other potential fears their customers may have.
JetBlue president Joanna Geraghty said, “Authorities have not issued any travel restrictions to the locations we fly… We want to give our customers some peace of mind that we are ready to support them should the situation change…”
In that brief statement, JetBlue let customers know they had their backs, and that they could, at least for now, go ahead and book that flight, because their destination was relatively safe. That’s a smart way to double-down on the positive digital PR.