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CHANGE FEES: United Airlines leads with abolition

CHANGE FEES: United Airlines leads with abolition

COVID-19 has caused a lot of change in the airline industry, not least, very flexible fare change rules for airlines, given that flights are being cancelled all over the place, not to mention the absolute mayhem around border entry and exit rules.

Most airlines have for the time being modified if not eliminated change fees. United has taken it a step further for domestic fares:

‘The carrier announced today that it is permanently getting rid of change fees on all standard Economy and Premium cabin tickets for travel within the U.S., effective immediately. ‘

Some other change to be implemented for next year, are a little more nauanced:

And starting on January 1, 2021, any United customer can fly standby for free on a flight departing the day of their travel regardless of the type of ticket or class of service, a first among U.S. carriers, while MileagePlus Premier members can confirm a seat on a different flight on the same day with the same departure and arrival cities as their original ticket if a seat in the same ticket fare class is available.

Any catches?

Of course there are. This is the real world isn’t it?

  • Passengers who rebook flights at a lower cost will not be refunded the difference
  • Fees on international flights are not being waived – however United is continuing its COVID-19 related temporary waiver of change fees for international economy

United are also eliminating fees for standby fares.

a white airplane flying in the sky

2PAXfly Takeout

This is another timely reminder to wear your seatbelt when seated. Holding you close to your seat will protect you from the sort of injuries sustained on this flight, when unsecured passengers flew to the ceiling of the aircraft, and then came crashing down once the ‘drop’ ceased.

The hope will be that this is an anomaly – a ‘freak accident’ in casual parlance. If it is a systemic error either mechanical or electronic, then this is a larger concern for the airlines that fly Boeing Dreamliner 787 aircraft. Let’s hope it isn’t. If it is, it will pile on the woes to Boeing’s existing stack.

Change fees at United for domestic fares were pretty hefty at US$200 a throw, so eliminating them is very significant. Change fees instead of being justifiable to cover the cost of re-issuing tickets, have become just another revenue stream for many airlines.

Because of the uncertainty created for travellers during the pandemic, most airlines have suspended or modified their change fees, thus demonstrating that they are not essential.

United it taking this a step further by eliminating the fees for domestic flights. They are to be commended. Lets hope Australia airlines follow their lead.

In Australia

Back in 2017, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) considered the terms and conditions of Airlines in Australia, to see if they fell within Australian consumer law (ACL). They reviewed complaints received, as well as those lodged with state based consumer bodies.

In a nutshell, they are keeping their eye on the industry, reporting to government quarterly. Their broad approach is that the fees should be related to the actual cost of implementation. So change fees should reflect the actual cost of changing a ticket.

In 2018, Jetstar had to pay AU$1,95 million for false and misleading representations about consumer guarantee rights under Australian Consumer Law (ACL), as ordered by the federal Court. The ACCC also lashed Qantas this year, because they were not making it sufficiently clear to Australian consumers that they were entitled to a refund as well as a flight credit for COVID-19 affected flights.

“From our perspective, from the outset, Qantas did not communicate clearly with customers about their rights and in a large number of cases, simply omitted they were entitled to a refund,”

Rod Sims, ACCC chair

I look forward to change fees disappearing for Australian domestic flights – but I won’t be holding my breath.

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