United Airlines to Eliminate Unpopular $200 Ticket Change Fees

Good news for everyone who loves to travel, but had to cancel their plans amid the coronavirus pandemic. United Airlines announced Sunday that they will no longer charge passengers a $200 fee if they want to change a ticket for travel within the United States.

“Following previous tough times, airlines made difficult decisions to survive, sometimes at the expense of customer service,” said United CEO Scott Kirby in a news release. “United Airlines won’t be following that same playbook as we come out of this crisis. Instead, we’re taking a completely different approach – and looking at new ways to serve our customers better.”

The airline says passengers with standard economy tickets and premium-class tickets will be able to change their flights without paying the $200 fee, however, they will be responsible for any difference in the fare. Beginning in January, United will also eliminate the $75 same-day change fee for customers who want to depart earlier or later the same day to fly standby.

The only exception to the new policy is basic economy tickets, which do not permit changes, however, United has extended a change-fee waiver on all tickets through at least the end of 2020.

The airline industry has struggled in recent months as the number of passengers willing to fly has plummeted amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The four largest U.S. airlines lost a combined $10 billion during the period between April and June. The Transportation Safety Administration says screenings at U.S. airports have been around 30% of last year's levels.

According to NBC News, the Chicago-based airline has made nearly $6.5 billion in change fees since 2010. In 2019, it took in $625 million, according to figures from the Transportation Department.

Photo: Getty Images

United said that it eliminated change fees for people who buy a standard or premium economy ticket for U.S. travel.

United also said that it will extend a broad waiver of change fees — including for international travel — through Dec. 31. Customers who pay the lowest fares, called “basic economy,” can also change tickets free because of the extended waiver announced Sunday.

And starting in January, it will let customers fly standby for free on other flights the same day as their booked flight.

Consumer groups have long complained about the array of fees that airlines impose for things that were once part of the fare. Change fees draw particular scorn because, critics say, they far exceed airlines' costs of changing or canceling tickets with a few keystrokes.

Fees on checked bags and ticket changes gained widespread use during an industry downturn in 2008. Since then, airlines have added fees on seats with more legroom, priority boarding and other amenities.

They contributed to a highly profitable run that lasted for a decade, broken only by the pandemic. Now airlines are slashing flights and shrinking work forces to cope with the travel slump.

The United CEO acknowledged that airlines facing tough times have often “made difficult decisions to survive, sometimes at the expense of customer service.” Kirby said United is looking to serve customers better this time.

Since 2010, Chicago-based United has scooped up nearly $6.5 billion in change fees. Last year, it took in $625 million, third behind Delta and American, according to Transportation Department figures.

In Washington, several lawmakers have launched periodic campaigns to outlaw change fees. In 2018, the Senate approved a bill to prohibit “unreasonable” fees for changing or canceling tickets, but the measure was scuttled in negotiations with the House.

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