United Airlines not bringing back change fees

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United Airlines is doing away with change fees on domestic flights.
United Airlines is doing away with change fees on domestic flights.

United Airlines says it is doing away with change fees on domestic flights, "forever."

"Simply put, given the evolving face of travel now and going forward, it's the right thing to do," CEO Scott Kirby said in a video announcement Sunday. 

Like airlines around the world, United suspended change fees at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, but with plans to resume them. United had charged a $200 fee for itinerary changes unless flyers paid a premium for a changeable ticket. 

Southwest has never charged change fees. But United's decision to eliminate the fee long-term on domestic flights has the potential to be the beginning of the end for change fees among other full-service U.S. airlines. Major carriers United, Delta and American often follow one another on substantial service policy changes. Meanwhile, the pandemic has called into question the practicality of change fees as a standard airline practice.

In late May, JetBlue's Robin Hayes was the first CEO of a mainline U.S. airline to raise the possibility that the days of change fees would have to end. 

"It's not going to be acceptable, I don't think, for somebody who is unwell to feel that they are being made to fly," he said at that time. "And so, I think airlines are going to have think about how they monetize their fare structure, how they create products that give people the ability to change flights more easily than in the past." 

In a second announcement Sunday, United said that beginning Jan. 1, customers will be able to add themselves to same-day standby lists free of charge. The fee has previously been $75.

"This is a huge benefit for all customers to give them more flexibility if things change on the day of their travel," United said.

Kirby promised more customer-friendly announcements to come.

"Across the board we're doubling down on an improved customer experience," he said.

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