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Tropical Storm Elsa prompts airlines to waive change fees


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American Airlines flight 718, the first U.S. Boeing 737 MAX commercial flight since regulators lifted a 20-month grounding in November, takes off from Miami, Florida, U.S. December 29, 2020.

Marco Bello | Reuters

Major U.S. airlines relaxed ticket-change policies for several Florida cities as Tropical Storm Elsa approached the state.

Tropical storm conditions were expected in the Florida Keys and southwestern Florida on Monday night and Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. The storm currently has maximum sustained winds of 65 miles per hour, NOAA said.

American Airlines said it would waive change fees for the most restrictive tickets, basic economy, as well as any fare difference for all travelers booked to or from Fort Meyers, Key West, Sarasota and Tampa through July 7, if customers can travel no later than July 12. A fare difference would apply after that.

Delta Air Lines put a similar waiver for the same cities if travelers can change their tickets to fly no later than July 10. United Airlines’ waiver covers those cities as well as Fort Lauderdale, Miami, West Palm Beach and Orlando.

Those airlines last year scrapped ticket-change fees for standard economy bookings and up, an effort to spur sales during the pandemic. Competitor Southwest Airlines didn’t charge change fees before the pandemic.

But the airlines’ new policy does not cover non-refundable and non-changeable basic economy tickets.

Tropical storms, hurricanes and blizzards are often easier for airlines to prepare for because they usually have advanced warning and can cancel flights early enough to avoid customers getting stranded at the airport or have crews out of place.

More unpredictable summer thunderstorms can cause greater disruptions, as carriers experienced late last week when hundreds of flights were canceled or delayed during a busy holiday travel period.

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