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If you refuse to take a crowded flight, can you get a refund?

Many travelers have found their flights are so crowded that they don't feel comfortable staying onboard. Here's how airlines are handling this situation.
/ Source: TODAY

With photos of packed flights circulating online, despite the precautions that airlines say they're taking during the coronavirus outbreak, many soon-to-be travelers have questions about safety onboard.

A top concern right now: Can you get a refund or your flight rescheduled for free if you choose not to stay on a crowded plane?

NBC senior business correspondent Stephanie Ruhle answered this question Wednesday on TODAY, explaining that "across the board, most airlines are enhancing cancellation policies to help people who've got trips planned."

Below are details on specific airline change and cancellation policies for passengers who check in, get to the gate and choose not to take their flight because the plane is too crowded.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines will rebook passengers "uncomfortable with flying for any reason" or offer them credit for future travel on another flight, according to a statement to TODAY. The airline is also blocking the middle seat on larger planes and aisle seats on smaller ones.

American Airlines

In a statement to TODAY, American Airlines said they are "waiving change fees for all customers who have travel booked through Sept. 20, 2020," and this applies to customers who've already checked in for their flight. Customers can use the full amount of the ticket to rebook immediately or later, but the travel needs to be completed by the end of 2021. Customers can change the trip's origin and destination if desired.

Delta Air Lines

A spokesperson for Delta told TODAY that it's capping seating at 50% in first class and 60% in all other cabins, but if a passenger still doesn't feel comfortable, the airline will rebook the individual on another flight to the same destination free of charge.

Frontier Airlines

Frontier is also preventing flights from becoming too full by "blocking a set number of middle seats on each flight," a spokesperson told TODAY in a statement. Individuals can also choose a seat that's next to an empty one prior to the flight.

When asked for specifics about passengers who still wish to change or cancel, the airline did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Hawaiian Airlines

In an online chat, a customer service rep told TODAY that customers who made a reservation between March and May can rebook their itinerary without a change fee, but fare differences may apply. The airline will also try to accommodate seating guests on the next flight available without a change fee.

Hawaiian Airlines' website also said that passengers who do not cancel before their flight and "do not take their scheduled flight" will automatically be credited for future travel.


"If a customer does not want to travel once at the airport, they would simply notify a crew member who will work with them to reschedule their travel or provide a travel credit for future use," JetBlue told TODAY in a statement. The airline is also blocking all middle seats, except for parties traveling together, through July 6.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest allows passengers who bought nonrefundable tickets but decide not to travel to put the fare toward another flight within a year of the date of purchase — as long as the passenger cancels within 10 minutes of the original flight's departure time, the website said.

Spirit Airlines

In general, Spirit Airlines is "waiving cancellation fees for guests whose travel plans are impacted by COVID-19," according to its website. The company did not immediately respond to request for comment about whether this applies to travelers who decide to cancel or reschedule shortly before the flight departs.

United Airlines

Ruhle reported that United is allowing passengers who don't want to get on packed flights to rebook on a different flight or get a credit.

If you've purchased travel insurance, you might also be able to get compensation from the provider. Just check your policy and date of purchase before filing a claim related to the coronavirus because many insurance companies cite Jan. 21, when COVID-19 became a named event, as the cutoff date.

This story was updated on May 24, 2020, at 2:55 p.m. to include a statement from Alaska Airlines.