International airlines have relaxed their ticketing rules, with some allowing passengers, particularly pregnant women, traveling to Latin American countries to cancel their ticket and get the a “Zika refund” due to fears surrounding a new mosquito-borne illness.
The relaxation comes in the wake of Zika virus outbreak, which some medical officials believe has resulted in several women giving birth to babies with microcephaly, a condition that causes them to be born with unusually small heads and brain damage. The deadly virus has created widespread panic, with the medical community conceding that it has no medicine to cure the disease.
British Airways, and its sister carrier Iberia, said pregnant customers who booked flights before January 26 to certain locations — São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil or to Mexico City or Cancun in Mexico — could change their booking free of charge, delay their journey, or choose an alternative destination, according to CNN.
Similarly, Lufthansa said pregnant passengers and their companions could choose alternative destinations. This also applies to its affiliated carriers Austrian Airlines and Swiss International Air Lines.
But American Airlines, which operates several flights to Latin American destinations — including San Salvador (El Salvador), San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa in Honduras, Panama City and Guatemala City — has required passengers to show medical certification before canceling tickets.
Some carriers, like United Airlines, are not granting a Zika refund but are allowing people to delay travel or rebook at a later date.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has warned pregnant women against visiting 28 Latin American countries, including Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, French Guiana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Surinam, and Venezuela.
In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil. The outbreak in Brazil led to reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome and pregnant women giving birth to babies with birth defects and poor pregnancy outcomes.
Almost all airlines are even allowing their employees change their schedules to avoid work in areas affected by the virus.
Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Corp, and Royal Caribbean have also relaxed their ticketing rules somewhat to allow passengers delay their travel.