New numbers out of Jacksonville’s airport show travel slowly picking up

But passenger traffic still remains down about 70% from a year ago

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – United Airlines says it listened to customers and is dropping an unpopular $200 fee for most people who change a ticket for travel within the United States.

The moves come as United and other airlines try desperately to lure people back to flying despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. U.S. air travel has recovered modestly since April, but passenger traffic remains down about 70% from a year ago.

Those numbers are similar to what Jacksonville Aviation Authority’s Greg Willis says Jacksonville International Airport is seeing.

“Jacksonville is not unique. We’re pretty on par for what we’re seeing at mid-size airports around the country,” Willis said.

In April, JIA saw the lowest amount of passenger traffic — 14,525 people boarded a flight out of JIA, a 95% difference from that same time last year.

“We’ve seen slow and steady growth,” Willis said.

In July, 98,611 people boarded flights out of JIA, a 69.65% drop from the same time last year.

The four largest U.S. airlines lost a combined $10 billion from April through June. Airlines shared $25 billion in federal payroll aid under pandemic relief legislation and are lobbying for $25 billion more.

United has warned 36,000 employees that they could be furloughed in October. It received $5 billion in taxpayer money to keep workers on the payroll through September.

“When we hear from customers about where we can improve, getting rid of fees is often the top request,” United CEO Scott Kirby said in a video posted Sunday.

United’s move will put pressure on American Airlines and Delta Air Lines to drop their change fees, also $200 on domestic travel. Delta noted that it has waived change fees for travel affected by the virus through the year’s end. American did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Southwest Airlines does not charge change fees, a policy that its CEO says has helped it gain more business.

United said that it eliminated change fees for people who buy a standard or premium economy ticket for U.S. travel.

United also said that it will extend a broad waiver of change fees — including for international travel — through Dec. 31. Customers who pay the lowest fares, called “basic economy,” can also change tickets free because of the extended waiver announced Sunday.

And starting in January, it will let customers fly standby for free on other flights the same day as their booked flight.

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