Airlines say they are offering options — including refunds in some cases — for people worried about flying now that other passengers aren't required to wear face masks. However, the airlines aren't providing many details. Customers could find themselves at the mercy of workers at airline customer-service centers.
Many people who will be flying in the next few weeks bought their tickets before a federal judge in Florida last Monday struck down the requirement to wear a mask in airports and during flights. That requirement, designed to limit the spread of Covid-19, was due to expire anyway on May 3.
United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said his airline will be flexible with people who have a weak immune system or are concerned about mask-optional flying for any other reason.
"We are working with those customers... to find another option, give them a credit, or if they just don't ever want to fly again, [we are] actually willing to give them a refund," Kirby told NBC.
A United spokesperson said customers, except those on the lowest-priced "basic economy" fares, can delay their travel plans for any reason with no extra fee. He said passengers with special circumstances should call the airline's customer-service number.
American Airlines CEO Robert Isom said Thursday that the airline hasn't fielded many refund requests yet. "But like we do in all these events, we are taking a look at our policies and... asking [passengers] to get in touch with our reservations office, and we will make sure that we accommodate them in an appropriate fashion," Isom said.
An American spokesperson pointed to the airline's policy, which allows refunds for refundable tickets — those usually cost more — and credit for the value of unused nonrefundable tickets. However, people who bought "basic economy" tickets since April 1 are not entitled to a refund or to change their ticket.
A Delta Air Lines spokesperson said customers who wish to cancel a trip should contact the airline. Decisions about how to handle those requests are made on a case-by-case basis, he said.
Southwest, Alaska , JetBlue, Spirit and Frontier did not reply to inquiries.
On Thursday, the Justice Department said it would appeal the Florida judge's ruling that struck down the mask mandate, which was put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and enforced by the Transportation Security Administration.
However, as of late Friday afternoon the administration still had not asked any court for an emergency stay of the Florida ruling. Legal experts said the White House appeared mostly interested in appealing the Florida ruling to prevent it from becoming a precedent that could limit the CDC's power to impose pandemic-related measures in the future.