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UA Drops Change Fees

United Airlines has eliminated change fees for all standard economy and premium ticket for travel in the United States.  This change is permanent and effective immediately.

This puts United Airlines on par with rival Southwest Airlines, which also does not charge change fees. During the COVID-19 pandemic, most carriers waived change fees, but only temporarily.

In addition to dropping change fees, beginning Jan. 1, United will allow customers to fly standby free on flights leaving the day of their scheduled travel, regardless of the type of ticket or class of service.

Consumer groups have long pushed for airlines to do away with change fees, which they say are unreasonable – sometimes costing nearly half the price of the original ticket.  The airlines have staunchly resisted the change because such fees have become a lucrative revenue stream.  According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, U.S. carriers earned $2.8 billion from reservation change fees in 2019, roughly 1.4 percent of their total operating revenue.  Airlines made even more on baggage fees, roughly $5.8 billion, about 2.9 percent of their total operating revenue.

United’s announcement comes as the aviation industry faces an unprecedented drop in air travel in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and carriers around the world are struggling to stay afloat.  U.S. carriers have reported billions of dollars in losses, and their hopes for a quick recovery have been thwarted by a resurgence of the virus.   In addition, thousands of airline employees are facing job losses October 1 when the payroll support program, created as part of the CARES Act, expires.

The new change fee policy will apply to all standard economy and premium cabin tickets for travel within the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  Customers will not be limited in the number of times they adjust their flights, the airline said.