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United Airlines waives ticket change fees for domestic flights

A United Airlines passenger plane takes off with New York City as a backdrop, at Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey.

Chris Helgren | Reuters

It’s time to say goodbye to the $200 ticket change fee.

United Airlines said Sunday it would permanently scrap domestic flight change fees, a big bet that more flexible policies will win much-needed customers as pain from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on air travel continues to mount.

This is a page from the rival playbook South West Airlineswhich does not charge customers a fee to change their flights.

“After difficult times, airlines have made tough decisions to survive, sometimes at the expense of customer service,” United CEO Scott Kirby said in a press release. “United Airlines won’t be following the same playbook as we emerge from this crisis. Instead, we’re taking a completely different approach — and looking for new ways to better serve our customers.”

United’s announcement that it will no longer charge travelers the $200 fee comes as airlines scramble to find ways to revitalize their businesses, which have been battered by the pandemic. This summer, Transportation Security Administration checks at U.S. airports are hovering around 30% of last year’s levels as airlines forfeit much-needed revenue during the peak summer travel season.

Customers with standard economy class tickets or premium class tickets will be able to change their flights without paying the fee, but they will be responsible for the fare difference. The new policy does not apply to basic economy tickets, which do not allow changes, but United have extended their waiver of change fees on all tickets through the end of the year.

The Chicago-based airline will also allow customers in January who want to depart earlier or later the same day to fly standby without paying a $75 same-day change fee.

The measures could increase pressure on rivals to make similar policy changes.

The end of ticket change fees is a break from the myriad of surcharges and other fees that airlines have taken years to put in place. Last year, US carriers reported $2.8 billion in ticket change and cancellation fees, according to the Department of Transportation.

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