United Airlines is getting rid of most US change fees — forever


SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – JULY 08: A stanchion blocks closed kiosks in the United Airlines terminal at San Francisco International Airport on July 08, 2020 in San Francisco, California. As the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic continues, United Airlines has sent layoff warnings to 36,000 of its front line employees to give them a 60 day notice that furloughs or pay cuts could occur after October 1. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Good news about airlines has been hard to come by over the past several months, but United Airlines just came up with something that is bound to put a smile on most travelers’ faces: It is eliminating change fees on economy and premium cabin tickets for flights within the United States — for good.

The company announced Sunday that it will begin offering free same-day standby and flight changes to flyers starting in January 2021. For customers with tickets issued before December 31, United will extend a waiver, allowing travelers to change their flights an unlimited number of times for free. So, essentially, change fees are officially a thing of the past on United.

The new policy comes as the coronavirus pandemic has decimated air travel. Although travel has rebounded somewhat, it remains a fraction of what it was before the outbreak. Airlines, eager for customers, extended waivers to change fees as uncertain travelers wished to move their flights to avoid contagion.

“Change is inevitable these days — but it’s how we respond to it that matters most,” said Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines, in a video message to customers. “When we hear from customers about where we can improve, getting rid of this fee is often the top request.”

Alluding to the post-September-11-2001 time for airlines, when they implemented more restrictions on customers, United said it had learned from some past mistakes.

“Following previous tough times, airlines made difficult decisions to survive, sometimes at the expense of customer service,” Kirby said. “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.”

Air travel has fallen on hard times since the onset of the pandemic in mid-March, with the number of travelers dropping significantly. The number of travelers screened at US airports has dropped more than 70% compared to a year ago, according to TSA data. Some experts predict traffic levels won’t return to pre-Covid numbers for another three to five years.

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