United Airlines is scrapping ticket change fees for US domestic flights, as it tries to lure passengers back to the sky. 

The Chicago-based airline said it will permanently end the $200 fees, as well as extending the change fee waiver for international and basic economy tickets, as it struggles to deal with a huge drop-off in travel during the pandemic. 

Scott Kirby, United’s chief executive, said in a video statement that getting rid of the fee was often customers’ top request. While many airlines have temporarily abandoned the fees, United is the first big legacy carrier to pledge a permanent change. Southwest Airlines already prided itself on not charging change fees. 

Mr Kirby, who took over as chief executive in May after serving as president at the company, said it was “no secret” that the pandemic has had a “historic economic impact on airlines”. 

“Following previous tough times, airlines made difficult decisions to survive, sometimes at the expense of customer service,” he said.

“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.”

Shares in United have fallen almost 60 per cent so far this year as the airline suffered from lockdowns, travel restrictions and passengers cautious about flying during the pandemic. In July, it forecast that sales will plateau at about 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels until a Covid-19 vaccine is available.

United burnt through $40m in cash a day in the second quarter, even as it cut expenses by 69 per cent year-on-year. The company plans to furlough up to 36,000 employees, just under half of its US workforce.

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From next year, the company is also offering complimentary standby tickets to customers in all classes, on the same day they planned to travel, saying it was the only US airline to do so.

Mr Kirby added they were also rejigging their flight network to provide direct flights to destinations that were in demand and partnering with Clorox, the P&G cleaning brand, and the Cleveland Clinic to create a programme to improve health and safety on flights. 

Via Financial Times