As early as May, airlines began responding to COVID-19 by introducing mask mandates, suspending in-flight service, boarding in smaller clusters, and blocking middle seats—all in an effort to enforce social distancing and minimize contact between passengers and flight staff. Now, as summer gives way to fall, we're starting to see even more changes unfold within the global airline industry as major carriers say goodbye to flight change fees, which represents one of the more significant shifts in recent history. Here's what you need to know:
1. American Airlines
Suspending change fees through 2021
American Airlines passengers who purchase their tickets before September 30, 2020 for travel between March 1 and December 31, 2020 will now be allowed to change their flights for free through December 31, 2021. This one-time offer also applies to those who have purchased basic economy tickets, which are usually not eligible for changes. Rescheduling with a different origin and/or destination is possible as well—customers just need to pay the fare difference. And if you decide to cancel, you'll receive a flight credit valid up to 12 months from the date of cancellation.
2. United Airlines
Permanently eliminating change fees on domestic flights
United Airlines announced that they will be eliminating all change fees and allowing unlimited ticket adjustments for all U.S. flights, a decision that applies to both Economy and Premium ticket-holders within the 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands—although fees for basic economy ticket-holders will still remain. The policy officially goes into effect January 1; however, passengers with travel booked through December can also have their change fees waived.
"When we hear from customers about where we can improve, getting rid of this fee is often the top request," said Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines, in a press release. "Following previous tough times, airlines made difficult decisions to survive, sometimes at the expense of customer service. United Airlines won't be following that same playbook as we come out of this crisis. Instead, we're taking a completely different approach—and looking at new ways to serve our customers better."
And that's not all. Starting January 1, 2021, United will also be allowing all passengers to the US and to/from international destinations to fly same-day standby for free on both domestic and international routes.
3. Alaska Airlines
Eliminating change fees for all domestic and international destinations, forever
Beginning January 1, 2021, the $125 change fee for Alaska Airlines flights will be eliminated on Main and First Class fares (excludes Saver fares)—although fare differences may apply.
And if, due to COVID-19, you have to cancel a flight that you purchased with travel credits or wallet funds between March 1 and August 31, 2021, the credits in your Wallet will be extended to purchase through July 5, 2021 for travel through May 31, 2022.
"COVID has taught us that flexibility in travel is key. As we evolve our approach to travel to include more than 100 safety actions, it's important to give our guests flexibility when they book by eliminating change fees," said Andrew Harrison, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer for Alaska Airlines.
4. Delta Airlines
Eliminating change fees for travel within the U.S., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands
Effective immediately, Delta is eliminating change fees for Delta's First Class, Delta Premium Select, Delta Comfort+, and Main Cabin (only Basic Economy is excluded). The policy applies to travel within the domestic United States, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Additionally, Delta announced that it will be extending its waiver on change fees for newly purchased flights—international and Basic Economy included—through the end of the year, as well as extending the expiration of travel credits through December 2022 for tickets booked before April 17, 2020.
“...today’s announcement builds on that promise to ensure we’re offering industry-leading flexibility, space and care to our customers,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian. “We want our customers to book and travel with peace of mind, knowing that we’ll continue evaluating our policies to maintain the high standard of flexibility they expect.”
Changes fees may be gone, but according to industry experts, we can expect more expensive fares in the long-term.