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Zika Virus: Airlines, Cruise Lines Offer Refunds for Travel to Affected Areas

Certain airlines and cruise lines are offering refunds and credits to passengers are concerned about traveling to Zika Virus-affected countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The mosquito-borne virus has been linked to a neurological disorder known as microcephaly that results in babies being born with smaller heads than normal and developmental problems.

“British Airways said pregnant customers with flights to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, or to Mexico City or Cancun (Mexico), could change their booking free of charge, delay their journey or choose an alternative destination,” reports CNN. “This applies through February.”

“American Airlines is offering pregnant passengers a full refund if they provide a doctor’s note showing they are unable to fly to the following cities: San Salvador (El Salvador), San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa in Honduras, Panama City and Guatemala City,” it adds.

United Airlines said it was providing customers “who are traveling to the affected regions the opportunity to rebook at a later date or receive a full refund.”

Moreover, LAN Airlines and TAM Airlines, both based in South America, are also offering passengers the option to change tickets for pregnant customer traveling to Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, French Guiana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Suriname and Venezuela.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued travel warnings to those 14 countries and territories, in addition to 10 more. All of the countries are in the Latin America and Caribbean region, except for two: Samoa (Oceania/Pacific) and Cape Verde (Africa).

Health officials are telling female residents of several of those countries to avoid becoming pregnant, notes CNN.

MarketWatch learned that Southwest, in response to the Zika virus outbreak, reiterates its current policies, pointing out that “as always, Southwest customers can change their travel itineraries without a change fee, and even our most restrictive, non-refundable fares can be fully applied toward future travel as long as the reservation is canceled 10 minutes prior to the scheduled departure of their flight.”

“All the airlines said they are constantly reviewing their policies on refunds and changes to bookings. United has linked to the Center for Disease Control’s Zika travel advice, which now includes Central America, South America and the Caribbean,” reveals CNN.

Meanwhile, cruise lines are also allowing passengers to make changes to booking and even get credit in some cases.

“Norwegian says it will allow pregnant women to reschedule their cruise for a future date or to change their itinerary to an area that isn’t impacted by the Zika virus,” reports MarketWatch. “Carnival says that pregnant women who need to cancel their cruise will get a credit for a future cruise. Royal Caribbean notes that it will provide pregnant women with alternate itinerary options, which may include giving guests a future cruise credit valid for two years.”

According to the CDC, there is no vaccine or preventing drug to combat the virus. Up to 80 percent of the patients are reportedly asymptomatic.

“Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes),” explains CDC. “The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.”

On Thursday, General Dr. Margaret Chan, director of the World Health Organization (WHO), warned that the virus “is now spreading explosively” in across the Americas, noting that “the level of alarm is extremely high.”

“Despite the scary headlines, travel agents and companies say they haven’t yet had many cancellations or rebooking requests. Cruise line Norwegian notes that hey have only had one guest cancel a cruise and none request to change itineraries,” reveals MarketWatch. “And Kathy Gerhardt, a spokesperson for the Travel Leaders Group, which represents more than 40,000 travel agents, say that they’ve only heard about a couple of their clients changing plans so far.”

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