Coronavirus impact: Fears may mean lower travel fares, fewer airline seats

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Novel coronavirus fears are having a good news and bad news effect on the travel industry.

First, the bad: Airline and cruise line stocks are taking a beating.

And, the good news for travelers? Airfares and cruise fares are coming down to keep people traveling.

United, Alaska, and Delta airlines are all offering to waive cancellation and change fees through March in hopes you will travel later in a year.

They are not courting people who have no fear of flying - like Dr. Ali Hamid. "Personally, I'm not worried about traveling," he said.

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But the empty ticket counters at San Francisco International Airport, especially in the international terminal shows not everyone feels that way. In response, airlines are cutting fares.

"I'm actually seeing friends talk about low fares to Hawaii right now, some getting as low as $200," said Daniel Roberts who is flying from SFO to Los Angeles.

Erin Faessler and her daughter flew to SFO from Ohio for work conferences that were cancelled while they were in mid-air.

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"I booked mine before all this happened, so unfortunately my fare did not go down. But this year, the airports are definitely more empty, she said.

"I haven't seen anything like this since 9-11," said Chris McGinnis, who writes about travel for SF Gate. He says he hasn't seen airlines with so many empty seats to fill since the terrorist attacks 19 years ago.

"We had United this week come out and say they're going to cut their capacity by 11 percent and internationally by about 20 percent," he said.

With coronavirus cases diagnosed on the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship and the Grand Princess, cruise lines are cutting fares and cancellation fees as well, for now. McGinnis says the real test will come later.

"We are seeing some discounting for cruises, and for flights during the month of March into early April. But, we're not seeing big discounts for the summer yet," he says.

Summer fare discounts will depend on when the outbreak peaks and the spread declines. The International Air Transport Association says airlines could lose more than $100 billion in revenue globally. That's why the Trump Administration is reportedly considering tax deferrals for domestic airlines to help them through the slump.

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