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Very Frequent Fliers Answer Questions About Your Real Coronavirus Risk

Very Frequent Fliers Answer Questions About Your Real Coronavirus Risk
Joe Cortez

When it comes to deliberate and knowledgeable travel, FlyerTalkers are among some of the best informed as situations take shape. However, there is still a lot of misinformation that can happen when discussing newly formed issues. The outbreak of the COVID-19 variant of Coronavirus is no exception.

We gathered information from the most reliable sources available to bring you this travel edition question-and-answer session on the current Coronavirus situation.

Have more questions? Read the constantly-updated information (or ask your own questions) in this comprehensive list of cancelations, warnings, risks and more in the FlyerTalk forums.

What is “Coronavirus?”

As defined by the Centers for Disease Control, the “Coronavirus” is a “…respiratory disease caused by a novel (new) coronavirus that was first detected in China and which has now been detected in almost 70 locations internationally, including in the United States.” The formal name of the virus is “SARS-CoV-2,” and given the abbreviation “COVID-19” for “coronavirus disease 2019.” For the sake of simplicity, our references to “Coronavirus” are in particular to COVID-19.

How is the Coronavirus transmitted?

While it is suspected that the original Coronavirus cases were linked to seafood and live animal markets, the transmission of the virus may be coming through human contact. In particular, the CDC believes the virus is spread “Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about six feet)” via “respiratory droplets” through coughing or sneezing.

A potential secondary method involves touching a surface or object where the virus is living, followed by immediately touching mucus membranes, like the eyes, nose or mouth. However, the CDC does not believe surface contact is a primary means for transmission.

Can my pets get the Coronavirus?

Because the current Coronavirus origins are believed to come from seafood or live animal marketplaces, there are some concerned that they can contract the disease from their pets. According to veterinarians, it’s not uncommon for dogs and cats to either have a version of Coronavirus or be exposed to it. However, there’s no need for pets to wear a face mask, and there are much greater respiratory disease concerns for pets.

“To protect your pet from respiratory diseases, vaccinate your pet for Bordetella, parainfluenza and canine influenza, which are the most common vaccine-preventable respiratory diseases in pets,” reads a Coronavirus and pets fact sheet from the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association. “Your veterinarian can help you determine which vaccines your pet should have, based on its risk factors.”

Can I get Coronavirus from my pets?

Although your dogs or cats may carry a version of the Coronavirus, veterinarians say that the odds of contracting something similar to COVID-19 from them is extremely low.

“It’s important to remember that viruses can sometimes infect a species but not cause illness in that species, nor become transmissible to others,” the OVMA fact sheet states. “Again, it is not believed that pets such as cats or dogs can pass COVID-19 to humans.”

Is it possible to get Coronavirus from airplane interior surfaces?

Concerns of contracting Coronavirus from flying in an airplane interior is leading to more thorough cleaning of aircraft at ground stops. However, researchers believe that while it’s possible to get Coronavirus from that type of contact, it’s not the primary infection method.

Speaking at a webinar hosted by the University of Southern California Marshall Center for Global Supply Chain Management, Pierre Theodore, M.D., vice president of global external innovation at Johnson and Johnson, explained that based on current information, the virus may have a relatively short life on a surface.

“In some ways, we have a fairly good sense overall of the biology of Coronavirus and its life on a surface outside of the human body without a vector is relatively short,” said Theodore. “While we don’t know specifically with COVID-19, we are looking at far less than one day of capability of a virus to survive on a flat surface.”

With that consideration, it may be worthwhile to fly with cleaning wipes to disinfect surfaces you may come in contact with on an aircraft. Most cleaning wipes are TSA compliant and can be used to clean off seats, armrests and tray tables.

Could I get Coronavirus from flying with a potentially infected passenger?

Because the CDC notes that the primary method of contracting Coronavirus is through human-to-human contact, the potential exists for contracting Coronavirus from another flyer. However, there are many unknown factors to consider. While the CDC notes that “the virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person,” it’s unclear if droplets from infected people can travel through recycled cabin air systems and be absorbed by a flyer more than six feet away.

Although the CDC recommends “avoiding nonessential travel,” those who are flying should:

  • Avoid contact with potentially sick people
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands
  • Regularly clean your hands with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that has 60 to 95 percent alcohol concentration.

What should I do if I think I may be exposed to Coronavirus?

If you believe you have Coronavirus, your first step should be to seek medical care immediately. As with any illness, the CDC recommends:

  • Avoiding contact with other people
  • Separating from other people or animals in your home
  • Wear a facemask to prevent transmitting the disease through droplets
  • Clean your hands often, and clean “high-touch” surfaces daily

Can I recover my ticket purchase if I can’t fly because of illness?

When it comes to canceling a ticket or getting a refund due to illness, each airline has a different position on how to recover the cost of a ticket. In this situation, it’s all a matter of understanding the fine print.

If your ticket is on Alaska Airlines, it has to meet very specific conditions to be considered for a refund. Flights must be issues by Alaska, not contain a Saver Fare, must be ticketed in U.S. dollars, and must meet other criteria as outlined on their website. Alaska also notes: “If your reservation is not eligible for online refund or credit, you may still cancel your reservation online and use the value in an exchange.

American Airlines has one of the strictest policies for flight cancellations. “American Airlines will no longer accept a physician’s medical note for a refund of tickets due to illness,” a document on American’s travel agent website reads. “However, some extenuating exceptions may be considered due to critical illness of customer, immediate family, or traveling companion with qualifying documentation submitted directly to American Refunds team at”

In light of the Coronavirus outbreak, Delta Air Lines is changing some of their policies. In addition to granting a “no change fee” period for flights booked between Mar. 1-31, 2020, the airline is also waiving change fees for flyers who booked before that window but are flying between Mar. 1 and 31. But in the case of illness or sudden medical issues, some FlyerTalkers have experienced difficulty getting either a refund or change from Delta.

Southwest Airlines has one of the easiest cancellation policies, regardless of the reason for canceling. The airline charges no cancellation fees, but not all tickets are refundable. In the case of their lowest “Wanna Get Away” fares, the tickets are not refundable, but the value of that canceled ticket can be applied to a future flight.

Finally, United Airlines will consider case-by-case refund requests for nonrefundable tickets when sudden illness happens. According to their unplanned event policy, a change fee refund requests need “…a letter (on letterhead) from a licensed physician confirming that travel was not recommended due to the customer’s illness.” For full ticket refunds, a doctor on letterhead must write a letter “…confirming that travel was not recommended within the validity of the ticket (one year of ticket’s issued date) due to illness.” And if that request is made on behalf of another family member, the letter must contain the flyer’s name and relationship to the requestor.

Can I recover my ticket purchase if I don’t want to fly because of Coronavirus?

Outside of the waivers offered by the airlines due to Coronavirus, most policies will not let you cancel due to fear of contracting the virus. For those who want flexibility in their travel plans, consider purchasing a travel insurance plan with Cancel for Any Reason, which allows you to change travel plans and still get a majority portion of your non-refundable funds back.


View Comments (3)


  1. docbert

    March 9, 2020 at 8:27 am

    Wow. So much misinformation, starting with the very first question (eg, Sars-VoC-2 is the name of the Virus, COVID-19 is the name of the disease it causes) and going downhill from there. The CDC has NOT recommended “avoiding nonessential travel” in general, only to a very small number of destinations.

    There’s enough misinformation about this issue on the internet already – please don’t add to it.

  2. clarkef

    March 9, 2020 at 8:51 pm

    Indeed the CDC recommendation for non-essential travel is limited to China, Iran, South Korea and Italy.

  3. glob99

    March 10, 2020 at 11:32 am

    … and cruise ships!

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