Reuters. File photo. Passengers film a United Airlines plane at Houston’s IAH airport.

By Tracy Rucinski

CHICAGO (Reuters) – United Airlines (O:) said on Sunday it was permanently eliminating change fees on U.S. travel tickets with immediate effect, the latest effort by a U.S. airline to try to spur bookings affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Chicago-based United, one of the major U.S. airlines, began implementing a temporary waiver of change fees this year to give passengers more flexibility in their travel plans in light of the uncertainty surrounding the epidemic.

It is now working on a permanent policy for all standard economy and premium class tickets and applying it to any tickets already booked through the end of the year. The standard change fee for domestic flights – the fee charged to passengers who change their tickets – is $200.

In a video message to customers, Chief Executive Officer Scott Kirby (NYSE:) said getting rid of fees is often a top passenger request.

The move is in line with Southwest Airlines’ (N:) long-standing policy of not charging change fees on airline tickets.

Rivals American Airlines (O:) and Delta Air Lines (N:) have traditionally charged for changes. Along with American, they were booking record revenues before the pandemic crushed demand, largely due to the cost of things like checking luggage or choosing a seat.

In another change, starting Jan. 1, United will allow customers to list free standbys on different flights on the day of travel with seats available, departing and arriving in the same cities.

Calling the moves a departure from decisions the airline has made in the past to survive tough times, sometimes at the expense of customer service, Kirby said United “won’t be playing by the same rules as we come out of this crisis.

Airlines are burning through millions of dollars a day due to the epidemic, but agreed that restoring customer confidence and providing travel flexibility will be key to encouraging people to travel again and paving the way for a return to profitability.

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2020-08-30