The Zika virus continues to spread and is drastically affecting countries throughout Central and South America, as well as Mexico. At a press conference today, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that there is now a "public health emergency of international concern" over the clusters of microcephaly in Brazil and the suspected (although not scientifically proven) link to microcephaly and birth defects. It's important to note that this is not a declaration for the actual Zika virus. WHO also stated that "there should be no restrictions on travel or trade with countries, areas and/or territories with Zika virus transmission."
The virus's greatest potential threat is to pregnant women or women trying to become pregnant. Airlines and cruise lines are recognizing this threat. Some providers are offering refunds or waived cancelation fees for pre-booked travel. See below for a list of companies offering refunds related to Zika.
Editor's Note: For up-to-date information, please check the CDC and WHO websites regularly, and directly contact airlines, hotels, cruise lines, and travel agents you have booked with if you are looking to rebook or get a refund or credit for pre-booked travel to the affected areas. We will update this article with more information as it becomes available.
- Lufthansa: Offering rebooking free of charge to medically certified pregnant women and companions to affected areas through March 31 when booked before January 28, as reported to NBC News.
- American: Offering refunds to pregnant women and companions to affected areas with note from doctor as per their website.
- LATAM, Avianca & Gol: Offering refunds or itinerary changes for pregnant women with travel booked to affected areas as reported to Reuters.
- United: Offering refunds to all customers or option of postponing with itineraries to affected areas as per their website.
- Delta: Issued an advisory allowing changes to destinations and dates to be made to reservations as well as refunds on case-by-case basis.
- JetBlue: Will work with pregnant travelers who are traveling to the affected areas as reported to NBC News.
- British Airways: Offering pregnant customers to rebook or change destination through February 29 as reported to NBC News.
- Alaska Airlines: Offering all passengers the option of changing destination or refund to certain affected areas through February as per their website.
- Virgin America: Offering a travel waiver to pregnant woman traveling to Mexico destinations as per their website.
- Norwegian Cruise Line: Will work with passengers who have passed cancelation date to rebook or change itinerary as reported by CruiseCritic.com; offering those who have made a final payment to take a credit.
- Carnival Cruises, Princess Cruises, Holland America & Costa and Cunard: Offering credit for pregnant woman and companions to rebook at a later time, as reported by CruiseCritic.com.
- Royal Caribbean: Is handling on a case by case basis, as reported by CruiseCritic.com.
- Disney Cruise Lines: Customers who are pregnant can modify their reservation as per their website.
None of the major hotel chains are yet offering refunds, but are taking precautionary measures like providing mosquito spray and educating employees on prevention. However, reservation cancelations are up according to a recent New York Times article, and hotel chains like Hilton, Hyatt, and the Four Seasons are reportedly considering waivers for cancelations.
This is largely being dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but according to Travel Weekly, Classic Vacations and Pleasant Holidays are working with customers to reschedule, waive fees, and receive refunds. Packagers have also reported seeing increased requests for cancelations.
According to Phil Sylvester, Chief Content and Communications Manager of World Nomads, Zika is being treated just like an illness, so medical costs associated with the disease would be covered: "The standard conditions apply to pregnancy (regardless of Zika): If a pregnant woman becomes ill prior to departure, and their medical practitioner declares them medically unfit to travel, they are covered for cancelation costs. If the insured becomes pregnant after they purchased their policy (and before their trip starts) that is a valid reason to cancel. Note, none of that has anything to do specifically with Zika virus."
If you are pregnant, Sylvester emphasizes it's important to note that, "There's no coverage for 'change of mind.' For the cancelation conditions to take effect, we need a government declaration against travel to a destination. So far the wording from State and WHO and CDC has been just short of that. They're strongly suggesting pregnant women change their travels plans, but they're not saying 'don't go.'"
It's important to consult your physician if you're pregnant or hoping to become pregnant and planning to travel to these areas. Consider travel insurance, take preventative measures, keep yourself updated, and contact any travel providers directly for their policies on the virus.
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Read the original story: Worried About Zika? Here's How It Could Affect Your Travel Plans by Ashley Rossi, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.
(Photo: da smart via flickr/CC Attribution)