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Spirit Airlines mishap tells customers "never a better time to fly" amid coronavirus pandemic

Trump travel restrictions confuse airlines

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread around the world and strict new U.S. travel restrictions loom over Europe, some budget airlines have been sending a contradictory message that there's never been a better time to fly. Ad from airlines including Spirit and Frontier urged customers to book flights now.

Spirit Airlines sent a promotional email with the subject line, "Never A Better Time To Fly," to customers Thursday morning. "The perfect time to treat yourself? Right this minute," the email said. "Grab a great fare now and plan a trip today." 

Similarly, Frontier Airlines sent out a promotional email Thursday morning advertising 2 million seats on sale and a promo code for 90% off round-trip domestic flights. "Book with confidence," the email said. "Increased flexibility! Change/cancel fee waived for new bookings through March 31."

However, Spirit Airlines told CBS News its email was created months ago and was accidentally sent. A spokesperson said the company was able to stop the email from reaching 75% of its subscribers once it realized the mishap. 

"We apologize for the marketing email that was sent earlier today," the airline told CBS News. "It was written prior to the current situation and unfortunately sent. We are closely monitoring COVID-19 and taking precautions to keep our Guests & Team Members safe."

The airline said it is offering flexible travel options and allowing modifications for customers worried about the coronavirus, which has now infected more than 127,000 people worldwide and killed more than 4,700. 

Frontier Airlines did not respond to CBS News' request for comment. 

Public health officials have warned people to avoid travel and increase "social distancing" — avoiding large groups to prevent the spread of the virus. Many people are being told to self-quarantine or work from home, and on Wednesday night, President Trump announced a ban on travel from Europe to the U.S. 

"To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days," Mr. Trump said. The administration clarified that the ban will affect foreign nationals from most European countries but not the U.K., while Americans in Europe will be allowed to fly home after undergoing medical screening. The new travel rules go into effect late Friday night at midnight.

Most airlines are making exceptions to their normal cancellation rules due to concerns about the outbreak, and are also assuring the public that they are taking extra steps to clean and disinfect their planes.

Delta has waived many change fees and says it is willing to work with customers to adjust travel plans or even switch to other airlines when needed. JetBlue waived all change and cancellation fees through April 30, and United and American are also waiving change fees for travel through April 30.

Doctor weighs in on best ways to fight coronavirus

While the airlines are taking a financial hit, many millennials and Gen Z'ers are joking online that they're willing to take their chances of contracting the virus due to the extremely cheap cost of flights. But if you are thinking about taking advantage of these deals, it's important to know the risks

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that "crowded travel settings, like airports, may increase your risk of exposure to COVID-19" if other passengers happen to be infected. And it says people who are at higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus — including older people and those with medical conditions like heart disease or diabetes — should "avoid all cruise travel and nonessential air travel."

The CDC has compiled guidelines for those who are considering travel to high-, medium- and low-risk destinations during the outbreak. Right now, it considers China, South Korea, Iran and most of Europe "Watch Level 3" high-risk areas because of widespread transmission of coronavirus, and recommends canceling all nonessential travel to those places.

Regardless of where you are traveling, it is always important to take precautions like avoiding contact with sick people, avoiding touching your face and washing your hands thoroughly. 

According to the CDC, the risk of infection on airplanes themselves is low. "Because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on airplanes," the CDC says.

Caitlin O'Kane contributed to this report. 

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