Malaysia Airlines Offers Refunds to Jittery Travelers

Malaysia Airlines is offering refunds to future travelers looking to postpone or cancel their already-booked flights following the tragedy of flight MH17, which was downed last Thursday over Ukraine.

The airline said in a series of tweets late Friday that it is waiving fees for passengers seeking to change their travel plans, and refunding those who want to cancel, even if the ticket was purchased as non-refundable.

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The offer is only valid through Thursday, and applies to travel between July 18 and Dec. 31, 2014, according to a statement on the airline’s website.

“Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets the loss of MH17, and is very much appreciative of the support from our passengers,” the statement reads.

The future of the embattled airline is in jeopardy after suffering two disasters in less than six months.

Flight 17, which was carrying 298 people, was shot down by a missile over eastern Ukraine, in an area controlled by pro-Russian separatists. In March, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 mysteriously disappeared with 239 passengers on board.

The airline faced serious financial hardships even before Flight 370 vanished. High fuel costs, increased competition from low-fare carriers, and a weakening currency threatened the airline’s prospects of survival, according to media reports.

Shares in Malaysia Airlines ended trading down 11 percent on Friday. Some analysts say a government bailout may be needed to keep the company from collapse.

Customers in Australia, where Malaysia Airlines is a popular carrier, have been attempting to cancel their flights. Nearly 100 HIV/AIDS researchers traveling to a summit in Melbourne, Australia were aboard Flight 17 when it was shot down. Twenty-seven Australian nationals were among the passengers.

“I think [Malaysia Airlines] are in for a difficult time,” travel agent Penny Spencer told The Sydney Morning Herald.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight explored whether passengers should avoid flying on airlines that have crashed in the past. He found that the likelihood of being in a plane crash, which is already low, doesn’t increase after a disaster.

Prior to this year, Malaysia Airlines had an above-average safety record, according to Silver’s analysis.

While public perception may trump the airline’s overall safety record in the short-term, travel experts say it’s too soon to predict the fate of Malaysia Airlines.

“It’s too early to tell what impact this will have on MH passenger numbers moving forward,” Haydn Long of Australian travel agency Flight Centre told the Morning Herald. “Some people will naturally be cautious but, as we have also seen in the past, others will be more than willing to fly with the airline, particularly if it was a random and tragic act and MH wasn’t specifically targeted.”

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