United Airlines said it is permanently ending flight change fees for most domestic tickets, the latest effort to boost demand in an air-travel industry hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
Chicago-based United and other carriers have already extended temporary freezes on change fees for domestic and international travel. But the sluggish rebound in passenger demand since April and concerns that Covid-19 cases could rise during the fall and winter season have pushed airlines to identify new competitive strategies.
United is the first U.S. carrier to completely drop its domestic change fees. Alongside baggage charges, they have long been a strong source of revenue and profit for airlines and a key subject for criticism from passengers, consumer groups and lawmakers.
Ancillary fees have climbed fivefold over the past decade and accounted for about 15% of sales at U.S. carriers last year, according to consulting firm IdeaWorksCompany.
Seat assignments and other extras have remained popular through the pandemic-driven travel downturn, according to low-cost specialists like Spirit Airlines Inc. that rely heavily on non-ticket revenue.
Some lawmakers last spring called for change fees to be curtailed or removed altogether as a condition for federal aid to the industry, but carriers have opted for voluntary relaxation to lure back travelers.
Southwest Airlines Co. already doesn’t charge baggage or change fees, a longstanding policy it has used as a marketing tool. Most other U.S. carriers have long charged change fees ranging from $200 to $500 that can sometimes exceed the original fare.
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