American Airlines announced Wednesday that it will start charging $50 for most customers who want to change their flights the day they are scheduled to travel.
The Fort Worth-based carrier said only "premium" customers will be eligible to stand by at no charge on the day of travel. American defines premium customers as elite status AAdvantage Executive Platinum, AAdvantage Platinum and AAdvantage Gold members. Also exempt from the added charge are customers "who are confirmed in the first- or business-class cabin, customers on certain types of coach cabin fares, other travelers booked in the same reservation as the eligible customer, and customers traveling on military fares (including spouse and immediate family)."
The changes go into effect for tickets purchased on or after Feb. 22.
American said it was improving the boarding process by eliminating the gaggle of standby fliers who flock to the desk before flights.
"On some flights we have over 100 people going standby," and their names must be manually entered into the computer system, spokesman Tim Smith said. "Because of the sheer numbers, it can be cumbersome to get the boarding process started on time."
Smith acknowledged, however, that "there is probably some revenue involved here," a point critics were quick to pick up on, especially since premium passengers will still be allowed to fly standby for no extra cost.
"It's the people who really want a cheap fare who are getting slammed by the fees," said Anne Banas, executive editor of the Web site SmarterTravel.com
Among major carriers, only United still gives coach passengers a free same-day change.