Will the Airline Industry’s New Ticket-Change Policies Outlive the Pandemic?

Experts think they might

Will the Airline Industry’s New Ticket-Change Policies Outlive the Pandemic?
Scott Olson/Getty

The airline industry has long been notorious for its onerous ticketing policies, maintaining a service model that affords customers very little flexibility without incurring huge additional fees. It’s a topic of much contention that has nonetheless persisted for decades, which is why a universal sigh of a relief could be heard when the majority of airlines began to relax their previously nonnegotiable policies — namely around cancellations and ticket changes — at the onset of the pandemic.

In a recent report by The Washington Post, JD Shadel explored a number of COVID-induced changes to travel that experts believe should be made permanent — the first being increased flexibility for fliers, and to do away with change fees once and for all.

“Eliminating the change fees has been a very positive move in giving people peace of mind and removing an obstacle to booking a trip,” Henry Harteveldt, industry analyst and co-founder of Atmosphere Research Group, told The Washington Post. He also emphasized the importance of continued flexibility, which will serve to placate the more reluctant travelers moving forward and ultimately increase the amount of bookings over time.

“For example, do you want a cash refund? Would you prefer to get a travel credit, perhaps even a larger value?” Harteveldt said. “Some airlines did that during the depths of the pandemic last year.”

And, speaking from experience, it’s true. This time last year, I had a JetBlue (Blue Basic) flight booked to Cartagena for April 1, 2020 — a trip I was, for obvious reasons, forced to cancel indefinitely. Luckily, JetBlue was among the first to begin waiving change and cancellation fees, and the full amount of my ticket was deposited into a travel bank for future use, at no extra cost to me. My travel companion was provided a full refund. Neither were options we would have been afforded previously, per their restrictive Blue Basic fares. It has undoubtedly made me less apprehensive to book future flights knowing full well that, based on the state of the world, I may inevitably wind up needing to postpone again and it won’t be a problem.

Of course, the notion that airlines’ new-era ticket policies will outlive COVID is still largely speculation, but the consensus among industry experts is that many of them will persist. We’ve previously written about some of the smaller, common-sense changes the airline industry could stand to make for the sake of a more fluid customer experience, and flexible travel itineraries would be right at the top of that list.

Another new procedure that might continue is boarding starting at the back of the plane. Again: common sense, but a change that will likely be embraced by most passengers. Just sayin’.


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