It's about time: U.S. airlines abolish change fees

This updates an article originally published Aug. 31.

Following the lead of United Airlines, the first U.S. carrier to drop widely hated change fees, the two other Big Three U.S. carriers and a fourth "traditional" carrier quickly announced similar moves.

In an email to MileagePlus members Monday morning, Aug. 31, United CEO Scott Kirby announced that United (NYSE:UAL) was "get(ting) rid of change fees for good."

"You can say goodbye to change fees on most Economy and all premium cabin tickets when you travel within the U.S., Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands," the email read. "And starting this January [2021], United will be the only U.S. airline to let customers in all classes of service fly same-day standby for free."

Later that day, Delat Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) and American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL) announced that they were also dropping the charges for most tickets for domestic flights. Seattle-headquartered Alaska Airlines (NYSE:ALK) Alaska Airlines  permanently dropped its $125 change fee on all domestic and international flights. Alaska's new policy applies to all ticket except for those purchased through the airline's “Saver fare” program.

United also noted that its MileagePlus Premium members will have even more flexibility and will be able to confirm a seat on an earlier flight for no cost at all.

My take

It's about time. The industry has been exploting its customers for far too long and this is just one of many changes needed.  $250 or more to change a flight? Ridiculous!

At the start of the current COVID crisis, one industry observer noted that Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) was one of the country's most profitable airlines, and it earned that position without either baggage or change fees.

In any case, Kirby deserves kudos for taking a much-needed first step in moving the U.S. airline industry to a more customer-centric model. , but the carrier's recent history demanded some radical action.  Four the last four years, it has been ranked No. 68 of the World's Top 100 Airlines in the well-regarded SKYTRAX World Airline Awards.  While that was barely ahead of American (NASDAQ:AAL) which ranked No. 74 in 2019, '17 and '16 and No. 71 in '18, it was well behind Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) which ranked No. 41 all four years.

Something had to be done, and this is a good beginning. Now that other carries have taken note and followed suit, maybe some will even go a step farther and start abolishing those hated nickel-and-dime charges they euphemistically call "ancillary revenue."

Fingers crossed.

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