CHICAGO – In a surprise press release on Sunday, United Airlines (UA) announced major alterations to the company’s change fee policy and standby rules.

With the permanent removal of change fees for most domestic flights, the new policy also allows for free changes to international and basic economy tickets issued by December 31, 2020. The airline will also allow travelers free same-day standby, available beginning January 1st, 2021.

The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has severely altered the way airlines do business. With regard to the needs of travelers, a severely shrunken market means policy flexibility has increased significance.

While other US-based airlines have already announced similar changes, UA becomes the latest to recognize the needs of their customers. As stated in a video message from CEO Scott Kirby, “Change is inevitable these days – but it’s how we respond to it that matters most. When we hear from customers about where we can improve, getting rid of this fee is often the top request.”

Video message from United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby

An Updated Change Fee Policy

Effective immediately, UA has permanently eliminated change fees on most domestic flights. These include destinations within the continental U.S, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. However, it does not include Guam. This change will be available for the following tickets:

  • Economy
  • Economy Plus
  • United First
  • United Business
  • United Business Plus

For international and basic economy tickets, UA has waived the change fee for tickets issued until December 31st, 2020. This will be applicable for travel within 12 months of the ticket issue date.

New United Airlines check-in counter at Terminal B LGA. PHOTO: United Airlines

A First in Standby Travel

While the press release highlights the elimination of change fees, UA is also making movements on a different front. Starting January 1, 2020, all UA customers can join the standby list of an earlier same-day flight, free of charge.

With this, UA becomes the first US-based airline to offer this service. While it does not fully guarantee luggage making it on the standby flight, it is still a major step forward in customer flexibility.

This is not all. MileagePlus Premier members also gain the ability to make a same-day change and confirm a seat, free of charge. The new flight will need to be within 24 hours of the original ticket and have the same origin and destination.

It is agreeable that airline policies have become restrictive and inflexible during the last decade, often at the expense of customer service. With financial pressures mounting as a result of COVID-19, an airline’s ability to adapt has become a major selling point for travelers.

While the global pandemic has brought about few positives, let’s continue to hope the resurgence of high-quality customer service is one of them.

Featured Image: United Boeing 737 on runway at IAH. Photo: United Airlines.