United Airlines will eliminate its $200 fee to change domestic tickets effective immediately, scrapping a perennial source of customer anger as carriers try to coax people back on planes.
In addition, starting next year, passengers will be able to fly on a standby basis for free if a seat is open the same day as their planned flight, United said in a statement Sunday. The airline currently charges $75.
United’s new policy make it the first U.S. airline to permanently end change fees, which the company and its rivals temporarily scrapped earlier this year as the coronavirus pandemic gutted travel. United collected $625 million in ticket cancellation and change fees last year, trailing Delta Air Lines and American Airlines, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“When we hear from customers about where we can improve, getting rid of fees is often the top request,” United Chief Executive Officer Scott Kirby said in a video message to customers. “Following previous tough times, airlines made difficult decisions to survive, sometimes at the expense of customer service. United Airlines won’t be following the same playbook as we come out of this crisis.”
The decision brings United’s policies closer to those of rival Southwest Airlines, which has never charged customers to change tickets, and is likely to pressure American and Delta to weigh the future of their fee structures. Even with the suspension of change fees this year, travelers at all U.S. airlines are required to pay any difference in fares if they switch to a different flight.
Altogether, 10 U.S. carriers reported a combined $2.8 billion in fee revenue last year. United will retain international change fees that range from $150 to $400.
Passenger counts at U.S. airlines are still about 70% below last year’s levels.
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