“They have no choice right now, because people aren’t booking,” Becker said.
The need to draw passengers back on to planes could even prompt airlines to adjust other policies, such as baggage fees, Becker added. Other analysts suggested airlines could permanently loosen their policies, perhaps by offering no-fee reservation changes two weeks or more before takeoff.
Delta, American and United declined to comment.
Why change fees exist and how they could change
“When you’re operating essentially break-even” change fee revenue is a “pretty big deal”, Bacon said.
Bacon also argues that change fees are justifiable: If passengers make last-minute changes and planes take off with empty seats, the airline misses out on revenue — or what economists call an opportunity cost.
But, it’s hard to make the “opportunity cost” argument if travelers change their plans two weeks or more before takeoff. Airlines, theoretically, would have sufficient time to fill empty seats. So, altering their fee policies to apply only to last-minute changes could be one way that airlines make a consumer-friendly change in a post-Covid era and help draw customers back.
“That’s something a leisure traveler could understand,” he said. “And maybe still motivate someone that has tremendous uncertainty” to book a ticket.
There are no guarantees, of course, that will happen. And four analysts who spoke to CNN Business said change fees will probably never be entirely abandoned.
“It would be a really nice, very consumer-friendly move if airlines took steps to make it make [change fees] more reasonable,” said Henry Harteveldt, the president of Atmosphere Research Group. “Unfortunately, airlines have shown themselves repeatedly to choose policies and tactics that are not consumer-friendly.”