U.S. airlines are getting rid of unpopular international ticket change fees in the latest effort to coax passengers back to overseas travel amid an unprecedented slump.

United Airlines Holdings Inc. is dropping the lucrative charges on all tickets purchased in the U.S. for international travel while Delta Air Lines Inc. is eliminating them on flights from North America, the companies said Wednesday. Both carriers are following American Airlines Group Inc. and Alaska Air Group Inc. in ending the levies as the coronavirus pandemic guts travel demand.

Scrapping the lucrative charges is part of a broader effort by airlines to revive their international business, which has been flattened by travel restrictions and quarantine requirements prompted by the pandemic. Ten U.S. carriers collected more than US$2.84 billion in ticket cancellation and change fees last year, including US$830 million at Delta, nearly US$819 million at American and US$625 million at United, according to the U.S. Transportation Department.

“International is the biggest challenge we have,” Delta Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian said on CNBC. The airline also is working to boost demand by establishing travel corridors to certain areas with passenger testing designed to limit or eliminate quarantine requirements at destination countries.

Delta’s fees, which run from US$200 to US$500, will end immediately for all but the cheapest Basic Economy fares or trips that begin outside North America, according to a company statement. The airline is also waiving the charges through March for customers traveling from abroad and Basic Economy passengers.

United said it was waiving the fees on Basic Economy fares through March 31 without specifying what it would do after that.

Earlier this year, major U.S. carriers did away with change fees on domestic flights, including after the coronavirus pandemic ends.

Iffy Outlook

While domestic passenger traffic has lingered at about 35 per cent of last year’s figures, overseas travel remains only about 15 per cent. With health authorities warning consumers to limit travel as the coronavirus surges, holiday volume likely will be similar to that of the last few weeks, Bastian said.

“We’re currently at about one-third of normal traffic trends, and I don’t see that changing here for the next couple of months, so that’s the challenge,” he said.

When the coronavirus swept through the U.S. in March and travel restrictions were imposed, major airlines were all but forced to let people alter travel plans without penalty as states and countries imposed travel restrictions.

Southwest Airlines Co. never has charged change fees.