United Airlines Drops Change Fees for Most U.S. Flights: Live Updates

Carriers have been doing all that they can to stand out from one another, from waiving fees to touting cleaning regimens and stringent mask requirements.
Credit…Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

For months, airlines have been waiving change fees to encourage hesitant travelers to fly again. Now, United Airlines is doing away with the charges altogether, at least for flights within the United States.

In an email to customers on Sunday, United said it was permanently dropping change fees, effective immediately, for most customers flying domestically. The change would apply to all standard economy and premium seats, but not to low-price basic economy seats that come with additional restrictions.

“When we hear from customers about where we can improve, getting rid of this fee is often the top request,” United’s chief executive, Scott Kirby, said in a recorded message to customers. Southwest Airlines also does not charge change fees.

United said it would continue to waive change fees through at least the end of the year for international travel and for passengers holding basic economy tickets. And, starting in 2021, every United customer will be allowed to fly standby for free on an earlier flight on their scheduled day of travel if a seat is available, the airline said.

The announcement comes as airlines prepare themselves for a recovery that is expected to take years to unfold. Air travel is currently down about 70 percent compared to last year, according to federal data, and carriers have been doing all that they can to stand out from one another and attract what few customers remain, from waiving fees to touting cleaning regimens and stringent mask requirements.

Theaters have instituted safety procedures like limiting capacity and aggressive cleaning.
Credit…Bridget Bennett for The New York Times

Theater executives are betting that a Covid-19 vaccine will arrive and that studios will soon return to their decades-old system of releasing movies. “There is significant pent-up demand” for the theater experience, one executive said.

“The New Mutants” is the most expensive Hollywood film to be released since March and is trial balloon for whether people are ready for theatrical releases. Its reception suggests that the road ahead for Hollywood will be anything but easy, Brooks Barnes reports.

“It felt odd,” Shawn Mitchell, 25, said about returning to the movies as he left Regal Sunset Station on Thursday. “It was harder to just zone out during the movie. Now you’re more aware of what’s happening around you in the theater.”

Was that the sound of someone shaking kernels in the bottom of a popcorn bucket — or a dry cough? (Whew, popcorn.) Were any workers monitoring the theater as the movie played and reminding patrons that they had to wear masks if they weren’t eating or drinking? (Not that I ever saw.) Is that woman sitting nearby seriously going to watch the entire film with her mask dangling from one ear? (Yup.)

By the end of the 98-minute movie, many of the attendees were mask free, their popcorn long since munched. At one point, my mind wandered away from the mutants trying to escape a marauding computer-generated bear. I couldn’t stop thinking about a trailer for a coming disaster movie that had played before the film in which a voice had instructed: “Seek shelter immediately! Seek shelter immediately!” I comforted myself by tightening my own mask and using some Clorox wipes to make a little pillow for my head on the reclining seat.

But no one else seemed concerned. “I’m young and healthy, so I’m not really worried about it,” said a mask-free Malary Marshall, 24, before the movie started.

Does he agree or disagree with President Trump’s stance on a given issue? In Steven Mnuchin’s view, that is irrelevant. He is there to follow orders.
Credit…Erik Tanner for The New York Times

When the pandemic hit, the task of saving the economy was an opportunity for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to transform himself from an unremarkable Treasury secretary into a national hero.

Mr. Mnuchin, a former banker and film financier, sought advice from his former Goldman Sachs colleagues, a cable-TV host, a Hollywood superagent, a disgraced Wall Street tycoon and Newt Gingrich. Unburdened by his own ideology and with a detail-disoriented boss, Mr. Mnuchin worked with Democrats to devise and pass the landmark stimulus bill.

Afterward, President Trump hailed Mr. Mnuchin as a “great” Treasury secretary and “fantastic guy.”

The acclaim didn’t last.

Mr. Mnuchin is the rare cabinet secretary who does not seem to have strong political beliefs. He offers opinions when asked, even when he knows Mr. Trump will disagree, and then executes whatever the president decides. He appears to have little stake in particular outcomes. Does he agree or disagree with Mr. Trump’s stance on a given issue? In Mr. Mnuchin’s view, that is irrelevant. He is there to follow orders.

Mr. Mnuchin is a self-proclaimed micromanager. Career members of the tax policy staff rarely met with Treasury secretaries in previous administrations; they are regularly called to brief Mr. Mnuchin. On March 2, as financial markets were in upheaval, Mr. Mnuchin held a one-hour meeting about the “grain glitch,” a technical wrinkle in the 2017 tax law.

Until the second week of March, Mr. Mnuchin, like most people in the Trump administration, regarded the coronavirus as a minor threat to the U.S. economy. But then, as investors panicked, he shifted into crisis mode.

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