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United Airlines: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Latest Updates – Cancellation Policies, Status Changes, Routes, and More

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Christy Rodriguez
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Christy Rodriguez

Travel & Finance Content Contributor

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After having “non-rev” privileges with Southwest Airlines, Christy dove into the world of points and miles so she could continue traveling for free. Her other passion is personal finance, and is a cer...
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Keri Stooksbury

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With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now editor-in-chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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Reduced routes, customer cancellations, and governmental restrictions have all meant that United Airlines has been seriously impacted by COVID-19. If you have an upcoming trip booked with United, you might have questions about what to expect on your upcoming trip or what will happen to the elite status you worked hard to obtain.

What options is United offering for changing or canceling your trip? If you have to fly, are there any lounges open? What precautions is United taking to keep you safe at the airport and during your flight? Will you still be able to maintain your MileagePlus elite status with your trips being drastically limited?

This article will answer all of your COVID-19 questions related to United Airlines.

Cancellation Policies

United has offered a more flexible change policy and waived change fees/mileage redeposit fees in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. These policies apply to some tickets based on destinations — except Basic Economy tickets.

We’ve broken down United’s change and cancellation policies due to COVID-19 in great detail.

Loyalty Extensions and Status Upgrades

Because you will likely be flying far less in the coming months as a result of COVID-19, United is offering some concessions for its MileagePlus customers. For example, United elite members will have their status automatically extended through January 31, 2022 (or more), and all travel certificates can now be used for 24 months.

Future flight credits that were set to expire on December 31, 2022, will now expire on December 31, 2023.

Explore our specific elite status extension details for United, along with what other major airlines are granting for their elite status travelers.

Credit Card Incentives

United credit card PQP earning path
Image Credit: United

United credit cardholders can earn Premier qualifying points (PQP) through their annual credit card spend and for 2022 can apply this earned PQP toward Premier 1K status. Visit United’s MileagePlus cardmember update page for more details and terms and conditions.

Status Match Challenge

United occasionally offers status match challenge programs.

If you complete all criteria, “your account will be upgraded to Premier Silver, Premier Gold, or Premier Platinum status for 120 days based on the level you hold in your current frequent flyer program.” You will have specific PQF and PQP requirements to meet in order to keep the status for the remainder of 2022.

United Vacations

If you have made your vacation plans through United Vacations, it has updated its travel change and cancellation policy.

Flight Reductions and Cancellations

Domestic

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, United reduced domestic flights across the board. This is picking back up in 2022 as demand increases.

On the Q3 2021 earnings release, the key takeaways were that United plans to keep domestic capacity flat to 2019.

United announced 5 new domestic routes and launched 3 domestic routes during Q3 2021. United also resumed nonstop service on 23 domestic routes during Q3.

International

On the same Q3 2021 earnings release, the key takeaways were that United also announced plans to increase international capacity by 10% in 2022. In addition, United expects to be flying at record levels to EuropeLatin AmericaIndiaAfrica, and the Middle East in the summer of 2022.

United announced 3 new international routes and launched 3 international routes, with 6 more planned during Q4 2021. United also resumed 13 nonstop international routes during Q3 2021.

Important United News

United received governmental aid as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This came in 3 waves which required that airlines not cut any jobs through September 30, 2021. Layoffs and furloughs for United were canceled based on this news.

United noted that it was the “first commercial airline to require U.S.-based employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. 99.7% of all United Airlines employees chose to comply with the requirement, excluding those who sought a religious or medical accommodation.”

United Club and Polaris Lounge Closures

Only select locations at United’s hub airports will remain open. Hours and available locations are subject to change and vary by location.

All United Polaris and United Club lounges have reopened with the exception Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) — plans are in place to reopen this location in the near future.

There have been many safety enhancements at the lounges, including required masks, changes to food and beverage service, as well as the encouragement of social distancing.

Further, United Club guest access became more restrictive in May 2021. Star Alliance Gold members may only bring 1 guest if the guest is also traveling on the same flight as the elite member.

Safety Changes

Additional safety precautions have been made as a result of the pandemic.

Food and Beverage Service

Changes to the food and beverage service include:

  • Moving to primarily prepackaged foods and sealed beverages
  • Streamlining of services to decrease physical touchpoints
  • Food and beverages are available for purchase, but payment must be saved to your account as physical credit cards are not accepted onboard

Beverage Service

  • If your flight is less than 1 hour, beverages are only available upon request
  • Coffee, tea, and non-alcoholic beverages are available on all flights
  • Alcoholic beverages are complimentary in premium cabins only
  • Wine and beer are complimentary on long-haul international flights
  • Beer, wine, and hard seltzer are available on mainline domestic flights over 1 hour

Food Service

  • Special meals are only offered on select flights
  • No snacks are available on United economy flights under 2 hours and 20 minutes or United first under 1 hour
  • For United first, on flights between 1 hour and 2 hours and 20 minutes, you’ll receive an “all-in-one” snack bag with 8.5-ounce bottled water and 2 snacks; for flights over 2 hours and 20 minutes, you’ll be offered a choice between a selection of sandwiches and a snack box on select flights; for flights over 4 hours, you’ll receive a covered entree and sides
  • For United economy, on flights 2 hours and 20 minutes or longer, you’ll receive an “all-in-one” snack bag with 8.5-ounce bottled water and 2 snacks; on flights over 4 hours, you can purchase snacks
  • Additional food offerings are available based on destination
  • See United’s website for full details

Seating Arrangements

Be prepared to be seated next to someone as seating is no longer restricted and demand for travel has returned.

Disinfection Changes

Hand Sanitizer United
Image Credit: United

At the airport, social distancing at customer service desks and check-in counters is encouraged using 6-foot guidance markers. Sneeze guards at check-in counters and gate podiums have also been put in place.

United encourages using united.com or the United app to check-in for your flight to limit in-person interactions or accessing common touchpoints.

Onboard, United has currently implemented electrostatic spraying on all inbound long-haul international flights, and mainline overnight aircraft at U.S. hubs. As of June 2020, “all aircraft will have electrostatic spray on every one of our departures, in addition to disinfecting customer touchpoints and surfaces before every flight.”

When it comes to air circulation, United notes that “all mainline aircraft use a high-efficiency (HEPA) filter (like those found in hospitals) to circulate the air and remove up to 99.7% of airborne particles.”

As of May 12, 2020, United flight attendants will also be providing customers with hand sanitizer wipes when requested.

Face Masks

United Employee Wearing Face Mask
Image Credit: United

Flight Attendants

On April 24, 2020, United became the first major U.S.-based airline to require its flight attendants to wear a face mask while on duty.

Passengers

As of May 4, 2020, all United travelers over the age of 2 are required to wear a face-covering on board that fully covers their nose and mouth. United representatives have masks available, free of charge, for those who need one.

There may be some allowable times when you can remove your face covering on the aircraft, such as when eating or drinking, or in the case that the aircraft decompresses and the use of oxygen masks is required.

If a customer cannot wear a face mask due to a disability or medical condition, they can seek a mask exemption from United.

Also, as of June 18, 2020, United notes that “any passenger that does not comply when onboard a United flight will be placed on an internal travel restriction list. Customers on this list will lose their travel privileges on United for a duration of time to be determined pending a comprehensive incident review.”

COVID-19 Testing Through United App

The CDC is requiring all of those travelers who are arriving to the U.S. from abroad to get a COVID-19 test done prior to arrival. Between this and requirements for places like Hawaii and other international destinations, COVID-19 testing is more important than ever.

Luckily, the United website and app are rolling out updates to help with these requirements. You can now use either the website or app to book a COVID-19 test at more than 200 locations across the U.S. This tool, called the Travel Ready Center, not only notes what the specific entry (and reentry) requirements are in each destination but links to your reservation so you can be sure that your results will be accepted.

Fleet Changes

On United’s Q2 2021 earnings release, it announced the purchase of 270 new Boeing and Airbus aircraft, which it states is “the largest combined order in the airline’s history and the biggest by an individual carrier in the last decade.”

In addition, it also announced plans to “retrofit 100% of the mainline, narrow-body fleet” that will result in a “75% increase in premium seats per departure, larger overhead bins, seatback entertainment in every seat, and the industry’s fastest available Wi-Fi.”

Final Thoughts

United knows that it will be harder than ever to meet the minimum flying requirements due to the pandemic. Because of this, it has extended benefits and offered additional opportunities to earn PQPs for certain United credit cardholders.

If you must travel, many things will look different, like decreased food and beverage service, face masks, and seating arrangements. Sanitization efforts have been implemented to keep the aircraft clean and passengers safe on board.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is United Airlines handling COVID-19 seating?

United is no longer separating customers, so be prepared to sit next to a fellow passenger.

Is United Airlines giving refunds for COVID-19?

If your flight was canceled, you are entitled to a full cash refund. If you choose to cancel the flight yourself, you are eligible to receive a travel credit due to the current waivers in place. For more information, see Airline Cancellation Policies Due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Everything You Need To Know.

Do I need to wear a mask on United?

Yes. Federal law requires every passenger (over the age of 2) to wear a mask at all times in the airport and throughout the flight. Refusing to wear a mask can result in denial of boarding, removal from the aircraft, and/or penalties under federal law.

Please click here to see United’s mask policy.

Do I need a COVID-19 test to fly on United Airlines?

If you are flying to a location that is requiring a negative COVID-19 test (such as an international destination, Hawaii, etc.), United will ask for proof prior to boarding.

Note that you must also show evidence of a negative COVID-19 test to travel back to the U.S. from international destinations. Check out United’s COVID-19 site for more details.

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About Christy Rodriguez

After having “non-rev” privileges with Southwest Airlines, Christy dove into the world of points and miles so she could continue traveling for free. Her other passion is personal finance, and is a certified CPA.

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