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Airlines offer refunds, changes for Zika-wary travelers

The Zika virus is spreading rapidly, and has prompted many airlines to offer refunds or changes to passengers who no longer wish to travel to affected destinations.

The mosquito-borne virus has been detected in more than two dozen countries and territories in Central and South America and the Caribbean. A number of cases have been diagnosed in several U.S. states, including Florida and Texas; almost all the U.S. cases are travel-related.

The Centers for Disease Control issued a travel alert last month advising pregnant women to consider delaying travel to affected areas to avoid the possibility of being infected. The virus is believed to be linked to a surge in serious birth defects in Brazil.

British Airways and its sister carrier Iberia are allowing pregnant passengers, who booked travel before Jan. 26, to change itineraries free of charge, delay their travel or choose an alternate destination. The offer is good through February.

Among domestic carriers, United Airlines (UAL) is permitting fliers traveling to affected countries to alter their destinations or travel dates without a change fee, or they can opt for a refund if the changes are made by Feb. 29.

Pregnant passengers and their companions traveling to affected areas on American Airlines (AAL) can request a refund of the ticket purchase, but they will need to provide a doctor's note confirming the pregnancy along with a refund request.

Travelers flying on Southwest Airlines (LUV) can change travel plans free of charge and fares paid for non-refundable flights can be credited for future travel, as long as the reservation is canceled 10 minutes prior to flight departure.

Other domestic carriers, including Delta Air Lines (DAL), JetBlue Airways (JBLU), Alaska Airlines (ALK) and Virgin America have similar policies.

Among South American carriers, LAN Airlines (LFL) and TAM Airlines are also offering to change tickets for pregnant passengers traveling to 14 countries and territories in Central and South America and the Caribbean.

And cruise lines, who traditionally don't have very flexible change rules, have also instituted policies for travelers seeking to avoid travel to Zika-affected areas. Carnival (CCL) and Norwegian (NCLH) are allowing pregnant women to switch itineraries to an unaffected destination. Alternatively, they can postpone or cancel the trip in exchange for future credit. Royal Caribbean (RCL) is offering pregnant travelers similar options.

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