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Monday, March 21, 2016

Should Zika affect your travel plans?

In anticipation of an upcoming cruise that I'm taking next week that is stopping at many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the inherent risks associated with the recent worldwide outbreak of the Zika virus.

As most people have heard by now, Zika is a virus that is transmitted via mosquitoes and has also been suspected to be transmitted sexually. It is of most concern to pregnant females or females of child-bearing age since it has been linked with the birth defect known as microcephaly which literally means "small head" but is a condition in which the brain also does not develop properly.

Zika virus disease (Zika) is a disease caused by Zika virus that is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito.

While the effects of any acute illness are generally mild and I am not very concerned since there is no way my husband and I can get pregnant or ever become pregnant, my brother and his girlfriend are going on this cruise with us so it is of concern to them. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued a travel alert (Level 2-Practice Enhanced Precautions) for people traveling to regions and certain countries where Zika virus transmission is ongoing: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. This list is constantly changing and expanding so for the most up to date information can be found at

All Countries and Territories with Active Zika Virus Transmission via

If you are planning to travel to any of the affected areas then the CDC has a few recommendations to follow to try to prevent transmission:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Use EPA-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), or IR3535. Always use as directed.
    • Insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, and IR3535 are safe for pregnant and nursing women and children older than 2 months when used according to the product label. Oil of lemon eucalyptus products should not be used on children under 3 years of age.
  • Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks, and tents).
  • Stay and sleep in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms.

So what can you do if you already had travel booked months in advance and can't change your plans. Well depending on which airline you booked with there may be some alternatives as follows:

United's policy

"If you have a ticket for travel to a country affected by the Zika virus (as listed on the CDC website) and you are concerned about your travel, please contact the United Customer Contact Center with questions or to change your reservation. Customers who are advised to avoid the affected regions based on CDC guidance may change their destination or travel date without a change fee or may choose to receive a refund if their tickets were issued on or before February 29, 2016. The new travel date must be within the validity of the ticket. Additional charges may apply if there is a difference in fare for the new itinerary."

Delta's policy

"Customers with current reservations who are concerned about travelling to destinations reported by the CDC to be affected by Zika Viral Illness should call 1-800-221-1212 (U.S.) or your local Reservations office and speak with a Delta Representative. Customers may qualify for a change to alternate destinations, travel dates or a refund. Customers may make fee-waived changes to future reservations/tickets if tickets were issued on or before March 1, 2016. If you are a Delta Vacations customer please call 1-800-800-1504."

American Airlines policy

"If you're pregnant and traveling to a destination in Latin America or the Caribbean that's affected by the Zika virus, you and your travel companions can request a refund. Just provide a doctor's note confirming your pregnancy when you request a refund."

Alaska Airlines policy

Alaska said that if you are ticketed for travel to the above cities between January 28, 2016 and February 29, 2016, you may change your ticket to another Alaska Airlines destination for no change fee. Additional fare and taxes may apply. You may also request a refund if you choose not to travel at all. It said you should call Alaska Airlines reservations at 1-800-252-7522 (if calling from within Mexico, call 001-800-252-7522) for assistance. Changes must be made, and new travel must be completed by Feb. 29, 2016.

Southwest's policy

"As always, our Customers can change their travel itineraries without a change fee and our non-refundable fares can be applied toward future travel without penalty as long as your reservation is cancelled 10 minutes prior to the scheduled departure of your flight."

Frontier's policy

Denver-based Frontier Airlines will give a credit for a future flight to pregnant women and their traveling companions if they booked a trip to a place dealing with an outbreak of Zika virus. To qualify, a customer needs to provide a doctor's note, Frontier spokesman Jim Faulkner said.

Spirit Airlines policy

Customers planning to travel to a country that has been impacted by the Zika virus may contact us Here with questions about changes to their itinerary. For the latest updates, please visit the CDC Zika Virus travel information page.

Bottom Line

It seems like most major airlines have issued some sort of policy offering refunds for flights to areas where the Zika outbreak has been reported. And for those airlines that haven't issued an official policy, it never hurts to call their customer service and ask what options are available. Is this stopping my family from going on this planned cruise - not so much. But I'm sure everyone will try to take more precautions than usual, especially when out and about.

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