Can you get a refund on a plane ticket if you’re worried about Ebola?

News media converged on an LAX parking lot on Sunday to cover events after after a passenger exhibited flu-like symptoms aboard a Los Angeles-bound flight from New York. Fears of Ebola are prompting questions about whether one can cancel an airline ticket and get a refund.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Can you cancel your airline ticket because you are afraid of Ebola or other diseases?

Yes you can. But you may also pay the financial price.

The news about a second nurse who has Ebola and flew a commercial flight has travelers understandably concerned. The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that the second nurse diagnosed with Ebola was on a Frontier Airlines flight. 

“She should not have traveled on a commercial airline,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden says in the story.


If want you to opt out of your ticket, you can cancel it. But unless you’re flying on a refundable ticket—and most tickets are not—you’ll pay a huge price for doing so.

You can change your ticket, but you will need to pay change fees on most airlines, in all likelihood, and generally any increase in airfare.

If you cancel your ticket, unused funds will be set aside but generally must be used with in a year.

Why so strict? Because airlines, like most organizations that deal with products that have no shelf life if they are not used (airline seats and hotel rooms, among them), generally will not (and, thinking from a business point, cannot) be governed by passengers’ fears.


Airlines do not want to put passengers in harm’s way. American Airlines, for example, is allowing passsengers to change tickets to certain places in Hawaii and to Bermuda and several other Caribbean countries because of storms expected to hit those areas in the coming days.

But those are calls they made by the airline—not passengers.

What if you have insurance?

Unless it is “cancel for any reason” insurance, which is more expensive and doesn’t give you the full amount, you’ re probably also out of luck.

A recent “On the Spot” column detailed a father’s request for a waiver of airline change fees because he did not want to take his family to a place that was then experiencing an outbreak of chikungunya. That illness is usually not fatal, but it is painful.

He tried reasoning with the airline. It said no. Twice.

Even if you have insurance, you may not be able to cancel and get money back.

Your reason for canceling, that story said, must be a “covered reason,” according to Megan Singh of Squaremouth, a travel insurance comparison site.


The column went on to quote Singh: “Not wanting to go is never going to be a covered reason. Make sure that concern is listed.”

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