TAMPA, Fla. — The whole travel industry has been rocked by COVID-19 coronavirus uncertainty. That includes anxious airline passengers who might be worried about who’s sitting next to them on their next flight.
Now, the airlines and cruise lines are trying to give people options.
Here’s a look at what some of the biggest carriers out of Tampa Bay and the cruise lines that regularly dock at Port Tampa Bay are doing.
Just about every airline says they’re cleaning airline cabins more frequently. That means wiping down seats, tray tables, armrests, bathrooms and common spaces, too.
And some carriers say they’re now using the same kind of cleansers that you see at hospitals which are designed to not just clean but sterilize those surfaces.
It’s not just to stop the spread of COVID-19 but to boost customer confidence.
However, if you’re older, or if you have an underlying medical condition, or maybe you’re traveling with young children and you’re still nervous, here’s what the airlines are doing to try to be more flexible with ticket changes:
SOUTHWEST AIRLINES is the biggest carrier at Tampa International Airport. Southwest says it never charges customers a fee to change or cancel their flights. So, no big changes there. The value of your ticket is good for up to a year.
AMERICAN AIRLINES says if you bought a ticket from them between March 5 and anytime for the rest of this month you can change your flight - one time – receiving the full value of your ticket without paying a change fee. That new ticket has to be purchased by Jan. 30 of next year.
DELTA AIRLINES says if you purchase a ticket anytime this month for travel between now and Feb. 25 of next year, you can change that ticket one time to an alternate itinerary without a change fee. But that new ticket has to be issued on or before Feb. 28 of next year and you have to travel on or before that date.
JETBLUE says it’s suspending cancellation and change fees for tickets booked between March 6 through the end of this month for any travel through Sept. 8 of this year.
ALLEGIANT AIRLINES says it’s also waiving any ticket change fees for now. Their website has not specified any particular dates, so it’s probably a good idea to check with them to make sure that the policy is still in place before booking.
Cruise line changes
The cruise-lines say they get it, so, they’re working with cruise terminals to step up screening for passengers and crew before getting on board. All the major cruise lines say they’ve also increased their cleaning efforts on board, added more hand sanitizers.
And in some cases, we hear they’ve also eliminated self-service at the buffets.
The cruise ship companies are also loosening their cancellation policies by offering credit on future cruises, but they have slightly different incentives and dates you must cancel or re-book by. Changes are occurring rapidly, but as of 3/9/2020:
CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES, which also operates Princess Cruise lines, is offering future cruise credit for sailings scheduled between today and March 31. You can cancel up to 72 hours in advance, and you have up until March 31 of next year to rebook.
For those not cancelling, the cruise line is also offering an incentive. Onboard credits of between $100 and $200 per cabin depending upon the length of the cruise.
ROYAL CARIBBEAN, which also operates Celebrity Cruises, is offering a similar credit. But they only require 48 hours’ notice before the cruise date. And their credit is good for a future sailing anytime this year and all of next year too.
NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINES just updated its policy Monday. NCL is offering a full credit with cancellation, plus up to 48 hours before sailing. Their offer includes people with reservations all the way through Sept. 30 of this year. And that credit for a future cruise is good through Dec. 31, 2022.
HOLLAND AMERICA, which also sails out of Port Tampa Bay, is letting passengers with reservations through May 31 receive full credit toward future cruises this year -- or all of next year. Cancellations have to be made 72 hours in advance of the departure date and no later than March 31, which is the end of this month. Holland America, like Carnival, is also offering onboard spending credit to those who don’t cancel – of between $50 and $200 per cabin depending upon the length of the cruise.
When it comes to handling the COVID-19 virus itself, the cruise industry is expected to announce a much more standardized protocol Tuesday regarding on-board virus testing, previous travel limits, quarantine procedures and more.
On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also issued new travel guidelines impacting the cruise industry.
The Florida Health Dept. says the CDC wants those returning from cruises to “limit interactions for 14 days and notify your local health department if you become ill.”
We have also been checking with all of our mass transit agencies. Polk County’s Citrus Connection, Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit (HART), and PSTA in Pinellas are all following very similar protocols.
Buses and other vehicles are being wiped down. High-volume areas are being cleaned and disinfected several times a day, including fare boxes, steering wheel areas, seating areas, safety barriers and handrails.
But the agencies ask riders to keep in mind -- even if they do this every few hours, you can see how transmission is still possible. So, they say it’s still up to passengers to do their part and keep washing those hands.
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