Major airlines are doing away with hefty fees to change international flights, as the carriers prepare to try to lure back globe-trotters next year.
Delta and United join American in scrapping the charges to encourage global travel during pandemic. (Photo: supplied)
Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc. said Wednesday that they are scrapping most international change fees for good, joining American Airlines Group Inc., which made a similar move last month.
All three airlines said in August that they would permanently end flight-change fees for domestic flights.
The moves to eliminate the fees, which start at $200 but can run much higher, are an indication of the lengths carriers will go to reassure passengers and compete for their business as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage travel demand.
Restoring international travel is a priority for the airline industry, which has lost billions of dollars since the pandemic began.
Change fees, long a pet peeve for passengers, have been lucrative for airlines based in the U.S. The charges brought in $2.8 billion last year, according to the federal Department of Transportation. But executives have said they believe travelers will place more value on flexibility once they return to the skies.
Air-travel demand plunged as Covid-19 spread this year and has only partially recovered. International travel has been hardest hit, as government travel restrictions and quarantine requirements have made such trips difficult or impossible.
The number of domestic passengers in October fell 60% from a year earlier, while international travelers declined 77%, according to the latest government figures.
Airline executives say that could start to change next year as Covid-19 vaccines are distributed. They add that they hope that more flexible policies will spur bookings by helping people feel more comfortable in making long-term plans, despite uncertainty about how quickly the pandemic might recede.
“We don’t want just another reason why customers are nervous about booking and making advanced travel plans,” Delta Chief Executive Ed Bastian said in an interview on CNBC Wednesday.
Delta said its new policy will apply to travel from North America. United said it is eliminating change fees from all international tickets purchased in the U.S. For both carriers, change fees will still apply to the cheapest Basic Economy fares, but such fees have been waived through March.
Airlines have also been pushing for governments to strike deals to establish safe-travel corridors between major U.S. and international cities.
Delta has negotiated with governments in Italy and the Netherlands to waive quarantine requirements for passengers on its flights who have taken Covid-19 tests before and after flying, although those countries still don’t allow most Americans to enter.
United and American have run trials of testing protocols on certain flights to London in hopes of persuading governments that testing can be used in place of quarantines.
Nguyen Xuan Nghia – COMM