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Some Airlines Waive Ticket Exchange Fees for Troops

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10, 2003 – Some U.S. airlines are adjusting their rules so service members won't have to pay penalties if they need to alter ticket reservations because of military duty.

AirTran Airways, Delta Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines now waive ticket change fees for service members on military deployment orders, while ticketing changes on Southwest Airlines are currently free, according to Jean Marie Ward of the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. Continental, Frontier and Northwest Airlines waive change fees and also will issue refunds on request, she added.

Ward said particulars of these carriers' programs can be viewed at DoD's Military Assistance Program Web site at dod.mil/mapcentral/airtable.html. Information from more airlines will be added as it becomes available, she said.

According to General Service Administration officials, a number of other airlines will waive ticket change penalties if service members present copies of their military orders or a letter from their commanders, Ward noted. The waiver procedures are official company policy for some carriers, she said, but not all reservation or check-in personnel may know that. She suggested travelers call their airline for waiver information before going to the airport.

Much of the U.S. airline industry has been in a financial tailspin since Sept. 11, 2001, and have instituted or boosted penalties for customers who want new tickets because of missed flights or changes in their travel plans.

Military travelers became prime penalty targets on Oct. 7, 2001, when America launched its military offensive against global terrorism. Many thousands of active and reserve component service members already have been called up and deployed, Ward noted, and myriad thousands more have been tapped for duty as part of the U.S. military buildup for potential war against Iraq.

Questions were raised in late 2002 about the travel penalties faced by service members called off leave for military operations.

At DoD's request, GSA officials queried City Pairs Program carriers -- the contract carriers for government travelers -- regarding ticket exchange penalties and waivers for military personnel, Ward remarked. Meanwhile, she added, Air Mobility Command officials pursued parallel inquiries and ultimately coordinated much of the discussion between DoD and the airlines regarding waivers.

Information on the Military Assistance Program Web site notes that the Army Emergency Relief Society, Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society and the Air Force Aid Society may provide loans to cover unexpected expenses resulting when air carriers don't waive fees or penalties.

The Web site notes that service members needing financial help of this type can call or visit the relief society office at the nearest military installation. The three organizations have reciprocal agreements with each other and the Coast Guard.

Policies for changing reservations or travel plans vary across the travel industry, Ward explained, noting that Amtrak tickets, for example, can be changed without charge in most cases. In contrast, prearranged travel packages would be more difficult to alter.

"However, the travel issues related to short-term deployments are broader than changes in personal travel plans," Ward said. Certain military personnel, such as single and dual military parents, are required to have family care plans for deployments, she noted, adding that these plans can involve sending children to distant family members or bringing a caretaker into the home.

Ward said DoD is exploring the issue of this kind of short- fused family travel with the airlines. Pending new airline policies, she said, DoD recommends service members implementing plans that call for short-fused family travel ask their airline representative about eligibility requirements for any special fares.

Military families whose care plans rely on other forms of transportation should check their carriers' policies, Ward said. In any case, she noted, local military service relief societies might offer loans to cover these expenses.

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