If there’s any silver lining to be found in the aviation industry during the pandemic, it’s undoubtedly this: United has just become the first U.S. legacy carrier to eliminate change fees for domestic flights, effective immediately. “When we hear from customers about where we can improve, getting rid of this fee is often the top request,” United CEO Scott Kirby said in a video message.
It’s quite an unprecedented move. Though change fees have been temporarily removed across all airlines during the pandemic, Southwest was previously the only U.S. airline with a no-change-fee policy—other U.S. airlines have more-or-less been robbing customers who need to change or cancel their flights, charging exorbitant fees. United, for instance, formerly had a $200 fee for changes and cancellations, which earned the airline more than $625 million in 2019. Across all U.S. airlines in 2019, passengers paid a staggering $2.84 billion in cancellation and change fees.
“This is an amazing win for the consumer, but indicative of just how bad the airlines are faring,” tweeted Jon Ostrower, editor-in-chief of The Air Current.
While United’s new policy covers domestic flights for Economy and Premium passengers, it notably excludes passengers who have booked Basic Economy fares, which are the cheapest fares available and don’t include a carry-on bag or seat selection. International routes are also off the table, at least for now.
The airline simultaneously announced other consumer-benefitting changes. Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, all passengers across all fare classes on both domestic and international flights will be able to fly same-day standby for free, meaning that if there’s space available, you can hop on an earlier or later flight between your departure and arrival cities on the same day as your original flight. Previously, United charged passengers $75 to fly standby.
MileagePlus Premier members will also get a slew of new benefits. All elites, regardless of tier, will be able to confirm same-day flight changes in advance, provided there’s a seat available in the same fare class as the original ticket. And award miles redeposit fees will also be waived for all elites who make changes or cancellations at least 30 days in advance of their flight.
United’s policy changes are undoubtedly good news for passengers, and they will likely boost the airline’s reputation among travelers, which is crucial for business recovery as the pandemic subsides.