United says it will drop ticket-change fees

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY DAVID KOENIG AP Air­lines Writer

United Air­lines says it lis­tened to cus­tomers and is drop­ping an un­pop­u­lar $200 fee for most peo­ple who change a ticket for travel within the United States.

“When we hear from cus­tomers about where we can im­prove, get­ting rid of fees is of­ten the top re­quest,” United CEO Scott Kirby said in a video posted Sun­day.

United’s move will put pres­sure on Amer­i­can Air­lines and Delta Air Lines to drop their change fees, also $200 on do­mes­tic travel. Delta noted that it has waived change fees for travel af­fected by the virus through the year’s end. Amer­i­can did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment. South­west Air­lines does not charge change fees, a pol­icy which its CEO says has helped it gain more busi­ness.

Chicago-based 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.

The moves come as United and other air­lines try des­per­ately to lure peo­ple back to fly­ing de­spite the on­go­ing coro­n­avirus pan­demic. U.S. air travel has re­cov­ered mod­estly since April, but pas­sen­ger traf­fic re­mains down about 70% from a year ago.

The four largest U.S. air­lines lost a com­bined $10 bil­lion from April through June. Air­lines shared $25 bil­lion in fed­eral pay­roll aid un­der pan­demic re­lief leg­is­la­tion and are lob­by­ing for $25 bil­lion more.

United has warned 36,000 em­ploy­ees that they could be fur­loughed in Oc­to­ber. It re­ceived $5 bil­lion in tax­payer money to keep work­ers on the pay­roll through Septem­ber.

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.

Since 2010, 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.

JOE BURBANK/ORLANDO SEN­TINEL VIA AP, FILE

United Air­lines said it will ex­tend a broad waiver of change fees.

Scott Kirby

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