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A medley shot of all four UAE airlines from top left clockwise; Etihad, Emirates, Fly Dubai and Air Arabia Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: As demand for travel slows down globally amid the outbreak of the coronavirus, various airlines have announced flexible rebooking options for passengers who wish to cancel or reschedule flights.

Among those are UAE-based Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Air Arabia, which all said they will offer free cancellation and rebooking. Emirates said it will waive booking fees for passengers who decide to change their travel due to the virus outbreak. This is applicable for tickets issued between March 7-31.

“Customers can change their booking to any date, for travel within an 11-month date range in the same [cabin] class without penalties. Difference in fare, if applicable, applies. The policy covers all existing destinations across the Emirates network,” the airline said in a statement.

Adnan Kazim, Emirates Airline’s chief commercial officer, said the carrier “will continue to look at ways to provide flexibility, convenience, and peace of mind” to passengers.

Emirates added that with the early school closures across the UAE to limit the spread of coronavirus, the new fee waiver policy is applicable on tickets issued on or before March 4 with travel up to May 31.

While airlines normally refund passengers who cancel their bookings, there is a fee for that cancellation.

Etihad Airways, which has suspended some flights to China, Hong Kong, Japan, Bahrain, and Iran said it is introducing a fee waiver for guests who are required to cancel their flights or change travel plans because of the Covid-19 restrictions.

Such restrictions include travel bans that the UAE, for example, has announced for Emiratis traveling to destinations such as Thailand.

“Passengers can also request a cancellation. In this case, the refund is without penalty on the unused portion of any tickets,” Etihad stated on its website.

The new policies come as the number of cases infected with coronavirus around the world climbs to over 101,000, with over 6,000 cases in the Middle East alone. The death toll from the virus has crossed 3,400 worldwide.

Sharjah’s Air Arabia said on its website that passengers whose flights are affected by travel restrictions due to the outbreak can cancel their bookings at no cost by contacting the airline’s call centre. While budget carrier Fly Dubai did not elaborate on fee waiver policies, it said on its website that passengers who wish to change their bookings should email the airline, “and we will be able to rebook to another destination or arrange a refund.”

And it’s not just local airlines that have adopted these policies.

Indian low-cost carrier IndiGo said it will waive fees for rescheduling of domestic and international flights booked between March 12-31. The waiver would not apply to cancellations, however.

In Europe, Germany’s Lufthansa Group, which includes Lufthansa airline, Swiss, Austraian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, and Air Dolomiti, said it will introduce more flexible booking options. This will apply to both existing and future bookings till March 31.

Under the policy, rebooking fees will be waived, and passengers can rebook to a new travel date until December 31. This is applicable on flights worldwide, rather than just to countries with travel restrictions, but the departure and destination airports must be identical.

Air France, meanwhile, said that passengers can rebook their tickets for flights to China and Italy without having to pay extra charges. Passengers may also cancel their trip for a full refund. KLM also said that it will waive fees for those who have tickets to fly to China, South Korea, Singapore, and Italy.

In the US, airlines including American, JetBlue, Delta, Alaska Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, and United are waiving some rebooking and cancellation fees for domestic and international flights.