Will European Airlines Also Scrap Change Fees?

Less than a week ago, United Airlines made a bold move in getting rid of change fees for all standard economy and premium cabin tickets for travel in the US. Rather than a temporary COVID-only policy, this will be more permanent. The very next day, rivals American Airlines, and Delta Air Lines followed suit, changing their policies to better compete with United. So could we see European carriers make a similar move? Let’s examine various factors and what we can expect for the air travel industry on the other side of the Atlantic.

Air France-KLM
Air France customers can postpone their trips without any change fee, regardless of the cabin and fare type chosen. Photo: Air France

The situation in the United States

While the situation in the United States can be best summarized as the permanent elimination of change fees, the situation is more nuanced and only applies to specific scenarios. Knowing this will help us analyze the likelihood of European carriers making similar moves.

  • United Airlines is removing change fees on all standard economy and premium cabin tickets for travel within the United States. This new plan does not apply to flights outside the 50 US states, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. Besides, basic economy members will not be able to take advantage of free changes as changes are not allowed in the ticket class.
  • Delta Air Lines announced it would eliminate change fees on tickets for travel within the domestic US, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands for all customers whether they are booked in first class, Premium Select, Comfort+, and Main Cabin. Basic economy tickets will not count.
  • American Airlines is eliminating change fees for all domestic and short-haul international flying on fares in its premium cabins and most economy class tickets. This will apply to first class, business class, premium economy, and main cabin tickets for flights to the 50 US states, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, and US Virgin Islands. Basic economy fares are excluded.

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US carriers are eliminating change fees, but mainly for domestic flights. Basic economy fares will not be eligible. Photo: Daniel-Martínez-Garbuno

The current situation in Europe

Recognizing the ever-evolving situation with borders and travel restrictions, most European carriers have eliminated change and rebooking fees during COVID-19. Here are just a few examples pulled from the websites of Europe’s largest carriers:

  • KLM: You may change your travel dates without having to pay the change fee, as described in your ticket conditions.
  • Air France: you can also postpone your trip without any change fee, regardless of the cabin and fare type chosen
  • Lufthansa: You can rebook your flight without a rebooking fee, regardless of the terms and conditions of the initially purchased ticket.
  • British Airways: For bookings made from 3 March until 30 September 2020, British Airways has waived its change booking fee so passengers will not be charged, although, like the other airlines, they will need to pay any difference in fare.
Lufthansa, Parked Aircraft, Stored Aircraft
Most European carriers have eliminated change fees for the duration of COVID. Photo: Lufthansa

Our prediction: Don’t count on it

While travelers in Europe, for now, can enjoy flight rebookings free of charge on all flights, it’s unlikely that these carriers will continue with these generous policies beyond the crisis. As you can see with the above summary of US carrier policy updates, change fees are being eliminated only on certain flights – mainly domestic and short-haul. Furthermore, these policies don’t apply to the most basic fares.

While United’s move started a chain reaction and forced Delta and American to enact similar actions to compete better, there is little incentive for airlines on the other side of the Atlantic to follow suit as the policies apply to different markets.

Edinburgh Airport, Glasgow Airport, Transfer
European carriers are unlikely to scrap their change fees permanently beyond the crisis. Photo: British Airways

Do you agree with our analysis of the situation? Or could these changes in the US market be the start of a more significant movement? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

For what it’s worth, we put the question out to several major European carriers, asking if they might enact policies similar to the US legacy airlines. None of the operators responded to our inquiry before the time of publication.