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Major airlines drop ticket-change fees amid pandemic slump

United Airlines 737-900ER
United Airlines was the first to ditch fees for changing airline tickets.
(United Airlines)

Good news for airline passengers. United, Delta and American airlines said they would no longer charge fliers $200 to change their tickets. Alaska Airlines joined in Tuesday, dropping changes fees for most passengers.

United led the charge with a Sunday announcement that it was “permanently getting rid of change fees ... effective immediately.”

United’s CEO Scott Kirby said in a video statement the changes come in response to the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak. Demand for airline travel is off 70% over this time last year, according to Bloomberg.

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“You may remember that as we emerged from previous tough times, we made difficult decisions to survive financially, sometimes at the expense of customer service, either by adding new fees or cutting the things that made the flying experience better, simply because they were too expensive,” he said. “United Airlines won’t be following that same playbook as we come out of this crisis.”

United Airlines

Under the new rules, United fliers holding tickets, except basic economy, can change domestic flights as many times as they like without penalty. The airline also is waiving change fees for passengers holding domestic or international tickets for new tickets through the end of the year. The same goes for tickets issued after March 3.

Also, starting next year, passengers who want to change their flights on the day of travel can sign up for free same-day standby and take an earlier or later flight, if space is available. You have to fly to and from the same airports as your original ticket.

The standby rules apply to domestic travel and flights to and from international airports. Fliers sign up for standby on the mobile app, at united.com or at the airport (at least 30 minutes before domestic flights and an hour before international flights). Mileage-Plus Premier members will be able to confirm a seat for same-day flight changes; Silver members also can receive a seat assignment, if space is available.

Also, MileagePlus members will no longer be charged “redeposit fees” when they change or cancel award flights more than 30 days before the date they are scheduled to travel.

Passengers can be removed from flights for a litany of reasons. Refusal to wear a mask adds one more infraction to the list.

The changes come after United announced last week it may furlough as many as 2,850 pilots this year unless the U.S. government provides more aid. The number represents about 21% of the total number of pilot jobs, according to media reports.

American Airlines

The airline’s website Monday said “Wave goodbye to change fees.” It will waive fees for people who want to change their tickets in the U.S. (including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) as well Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

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Ticket-change fees are waived for all fare types except low-priced basic economy, effective immediately. However, basic economy ticket holders won’t have to pay change fees for tickets bought by the end of the year.

Like United, American will offer free same-day standby starting Oct. 1, provided you are flying to and from the same destination. Basic economy fare will allow fliers to pay to upgrade their seat, make same-day ticket changes and take advantage of priority boarding.

AAdvantage elite members can use points to receive preferred boarding, upgrade privileges and other perks even if they are flying on a basic economy ticket.

American says it would be forced to layoff thousands of workers, failing another stimulus package for the airlines.

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Delta Air Lines

Delta also is getting rid of its fee for passengers who need to change or cancel their travel plans for destinations with the U.S., including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It applies to all fare types except basic economy.

The airline will extend the change-fee waiver for new tickets — for international flights and basic economy fares — through the end of the year. Passengers holding travel credits for tickets bought before April 17 have until Dec. 2022 to use them.

Because of the coronavirus crisis, the airline plans to block use of middle seats through Jan. 6 to allow for more social distancing.

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Delta also has warned employees that they may need to furlough or lay off employees.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska on Tuesday said it would ditch change fees for domestic and international tickets, except for low-cost Saver fares. Like the other airlines, it is dropping change fees for all types of tickets through the end of the year.

Also, the airline will leave middle seats open through Oct. 31 to allow for social distancing on board.


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