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

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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 cancellation fees/mileage redeposit fees in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. These policies apply to both all tickets — including non-refundable tickets.

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

Loyalty Extensions/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, and all travel certificates can now be used for 24 months.

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

Credit Card Incentives

United is increasing the maximum number of Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) that cardholders of the United℠ Explorer Card and United Club℠ Card can earn through card spend toward status in 2021.

A promotion that doubles the maximum PQPs for United Explorer cardmembers and quadruples the maximum PQPs for United Club cardmembers will run from May 1 through December 31, 2020.

United Credit Card Incentives
Image Credit: United

Mileage Buy Incentives

United Mileage Buy June
Image Credit: United

Mileage buy incentives are targeted, so you may be eligible for different deals. However, one example of a current offer is that you can purchase United Miles with up to a 70% bonus through July 2, 2020.

  • Buy 5,000-24,000 miles, get a 35% bonus
  • Buy 25,000+ miles, get a 70% bonus

Visit United’s Buy Miles page to see purchase options.

United Vacations

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

Many destinations are currently closed to visitors. If your vacation has been impacted or you would like to cancel your current reservation out of an abundance of caution, you have options. If you booked your trip before March 20, 2020, and were supposed to travel before May 31, 2020, you will receive an additional 25% credit that can be used toward a vacation at a later date.

No action needs to be taken and you do not need to contact United regarding your booking. When you are ready to book your next vacation using your Future Travel Credit, please call 888-854-3899 and provide your original reservation number.

Flight Reductions and Cancellations

The airline has made “aggressive capacity reductions” as a result of COVID-19. Notably, Executive Chairman Oscar Munoz says United won’t build up airline capacity until demand comes back, per Bloomberg.

Hot Tip: To see more effects that the coronavirus has had on United, be sure to check out our article detailing the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on U.S. airlines.

Domestic

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, United has reduced domestic flights across the board. United says it won’t suspend service to any U.S. city, regardless of cuts being made due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though flights to the New York area have been cut by nearly 90%. Also, as there is a 14-day quarantine in place for people arriving in Hawaii, all service between Hawaii and the mainland has been suspended, except for 1 daily flight between San Francisco (SFO) and Honolulu (HNL).

For a better look at route suspensions and remaining service, check for the latest updates here.

International

While international flights nearly ground to a halt, in July 2020, United started added back international service.

On a positive note, starting in December 2020, United will begin new nonstop service between:

  • Los Angeles and San Jose, Costa Rica
  • Los Angeles and San Pedro Sula, Honduras
  • Denver and Belize City, Belize
  • Denver and San Jose, Costa Rica
  • Washington, D.C. and Santo Domingo
  • Washington, D.C. and Dominican Republic

Return service will also resume between:

  • Cleveland and Cancun, Mexico
  • Houston and Mazatlan, Mexico

In January 2021, United will begin new nonstop service between:

  • Los Angeles and Liberia, Costa Rica
  • San Francisco and Liberia, Costa Rica

For a complete listing of impacted international schedules, see United’s website.

Important United News

United is receiving governmental aid as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Under the terms of this $50 billion aid, all airlines — including United — are barred from cutting jobs through September 30, 2020.

Of the $50 billion, United will receive $5.0 billion in the form of a direct grant of $3.5 billion and a low-interest rate loan of $1.5 billion. It also notes that “the airline’s parent company also expects to issue warrants to purchase approximately 4.6 million shares of UAL common stock to the federal government.”

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.

The following United Polaris and Club lounges will remain open:

  • Chicago (ORD — Terminal 1, Concourse B, near gate B6)
  • Denver (DEN — Concourse B East, near gate B44)
  • Houston (IAH — Terminal E, between gates E11 and E12)
  • Los Angeles (LAX — Terminal 7, next to gate 71A)
  • New York/Newark (EWR — Terminal C, upper level, near gate C74)
  • San Francisco (SFO — Terminal 3, boarding area F, rotunda, near gate F11)
  • Washington, D.C. (IAD —  Midfield Terminal, Concourse C, near gate C7)

Bottom Line: All Polaris lounges are temporarily closed. In addition, if the United Club is not listed above, it is closed until further notice. 

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 pre-packaged foods and sealed beverages
  • Suspending “Buy on Board”
  • Suspending hot towel service
  • Use of pick-up pans to collect trash
  • New cups can be used for refills

Seating Arrangements

United notes that it has adjusted the “seat selection systems to avoid where possible seating customers next to each other, except when traveling together. We’re also alternating window and aisle seats when seats are in pairs.”

This unfortunately not been the case on some flights, so United has had to issue further policy changes. It states that “the vast majority of our flights (85%) are less than half full. However, because our schedule is so reduced, there are a small number of flights where our customers are finding planes fuller than they expect.”

Now through June 30, 2020, customers on flights where more than 70% of customers have checked in will have more options. United plans to provide the option to be rebooked or receive a travel credit “ideally within 24 hours prior to departure time” and offered again at the gate.

Disinfection Changes

United Employee Wearing Face Mask
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.

Self-serve kiosks have been temporarily shut down in most locations. Instead, 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 our U.S. hubs. Starting in 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.”

Hand Sanitizer United
Image Credit: United

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

Flight Attendants Will Be Required to Wear Masks

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. It has also implemented temperature checks for employees at United’s hub airports.

Passengers Will Be Required to Wear Masks

Starting May 4, 2020, all United travelers are required to wear a face-covering on board. United representatives will have masks available, free of charge, for those who need one. This requirement will be in place until further notice.

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.

United notes that “certain travelers, like small children and those who aren’t medically able to wear a face covering, aren’t required to wear one on board.”

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.”

In addition, starting on July 24, 2020, United extended the mask requirement to include wearing masks in the airport as well.

Boarding Process Changes

United is boarding fewer customers at a time to allow for more distance during the boarding process. It will board back-to-front by rows but will space out customers to minimize crowding in the gate area and on the jet bridge.

When deplaning, it is also implementing a temporary front-to-back order as customers exit the aircraft.

Bottom Line: Passengers that require pre-boarding will not be impacted by this change.

Health Self-Assessment Requirements

United has announced that as of June 11, 2020, it will require all passengers to complete a “health self-assessment” during their check-in process on the United mobile app, United.com, on a United kiosk, or by reviewing and verbally confirming when checking-in with an agent at the airport to receive a boarding pass.

It notes that these questions on the “Ready-to-Fly” checklist “ask customers to confirm they have not experienced COVID-19-related symptoms in the 14 days prior to flying.”

The checklist includes the following:

  • You must wear a face-covering while on board for the safety of everyone.
  • Have not been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last 21 days. Have not experienced any of the following symptoms in the past 14 days (excludes symptoms from a pre-existing condition)
    • Temperature of 38 C/100.4 F or higher
    • Cough
    • Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing
    • Chills
    • Muscle pain
    • Sore throat
    • Recent loss of taste or smell
  • Have not had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 14 days.
  • Have not been denied boarding by another airline due to a medical screening for a communicable disease in the last 14 days.

The checklist also affirms customers are willing to abide by the airline’s other safety protocols, including wearing a face covering, which is now mandatory for all employees and customers on board a United aircraft. Customers that are not able to confirm these requirements and choose not to travel will be able to reschedule their flight. Customers may also choose to check-in at the airport for further review.

Staffing Changes

Due to the terms to receive government assistance through the CARES Act, airlines must continue to pay flight attendants and pilots the contractually minimum amounts through September 30, 2020. Due to the reduced schedules, this means that some workers will get paid regardless of whether they are flying or not.

Unfortunately, as of October 1, roughly 13,000 furloughs were announced for the airline. 3,000 pilots were able to avoid furlough by agreeing to reduced minimum hours and other scheduling changes.

Fleet Changes

According to Bloomberg, United expects to park about 400 aircraft, mostly at its hubs like Newark and Chicago, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While United hasn’t currently announced any aircraft reductions due to COVID-19, we will update this section if that changes.

In terms of fleet aircraft shuffling:

  • 787s will not be used at Los Angeles (LAX) for up to a full year
  • 777s will be focused solely on Newark (EWR) and San Francisco (SFO)
  • United only plans to fly 767-300s (and not 767-400s)

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, boarding and deplaning, and seating arrangements. United has tried to make it possible to make informed decisions based on flight capacity, as well. New sanitization efforts will be implemented to keep the aircraft clean and passengers safe on board.


Frequently asked questions

How is United Airlines handling COVID-19 seating?

United is separating customers and staggering seating where possible. In addition, now through June 30, 2020, customers on flights where more than 70% of customers have checked in can be rebooked or receive a travel credit.

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.

Christy Rodriguez

About Christy Rodriguez

Christy was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but lived in Texas the majority of her life. Now, work has her living in the Bay Area with her husband and yellow lab. Her first international travel experience was for a summer study abroad program in Italy. After that, she knew that she was destined to travel as much as possible. Luckily, her husband worked at Southwest Airlines, so they were introduced to the exciting world of “non-rev” travel.

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