To be fair, it’s United that claims to fly the friendly skies, but somebody at Delta might not have gotten the memo.
Raw Story created a brief uproar on social media this week when they covered the story of Leigh Dow, a woman who was attempting to book a flight to get the heck out of Miami before Irma arrived. She tweeted out a price change notification from Delta for her flight from Miami to Phoenix. The difference was rather staggering, even by normal airline price standards, suddenly jumping from $547 to more than $3,200.
A public relations executive this week accused Delta Airlines of increasing prices on flights out of Miami just as Hurricane Irma was closing in on the Florida city.
Leigh Dow took to Twitter on Wednesday to express frustration after the airline’s website indicated that the price of her ticket from Miami to Phoenix had increased from $547.50 to $3,258.50.
“Shame on you @delta,” Dow wrote. “Jacking from $547 to over $3200 for people trying to evacuate responsibly?”
Since Leigh has almost 19K followers, the accusation went viral rather quickly. What didn’t get quite as much attention was the fact that Delta responded to her very quickly and worked out an alternate plan with a more reasonable price. Would they have done that if it wasn’t turning into yet another public relations disaster? Unknown for now, but all of the airlines caught wind of it and CNN is reporting that they are all placing caps on ticket prices out of the affected area until the middle of next week.
JetBlue (JBLU) said Wednesday it’s “offering any remaining seats in select markets” at reduced fares of between $99 and $159, including taxes.
American Airlines (AAL), which has a major hub in Miami, said it has capped the price of main cabin seats on single leg flights at $99.
Delta (DAL) announced it won’t charge more than $399 for tickets on all flights to and from southern Florida and the Caribbean. That price cap will apply to all seats, including first class.
Delta is still the most expensive, but four hundred dollars really isn’t all that high for a heavily booked route. So all’s well that ends well I suppose. After all, Delta does seem to be making at least minor progress in improving their image since previously announcing that they might have you thrown in jail if you complain about being booted off of one of their always oversold flights.
But before close the books on this one (so to speak) we should consider the original question again. Would this qualify as “price gouging” during a disaster? The fact is that airline fares are an insane subject of study to begin with, and popular routes during peak hours can have wild variations in cost. It’s supply and demand. Right now the demand to get out of Miami is probably through the roof even with the airlines adding extra flights, so you’d expect prices to go up.
The penalty for this normally wouldn’t (or at least shouldn’t) come from the government. In a more equitable industry, people would be disgusted by Delta’s actions and go elsewhere. But there’s no actual competition to speak of between the few remaining major carriers so they are free to treat you as badly as they wish, and since you still need to travel, you’ll keep coming back for more.
In any event, they all get a rare tip of the hat this week for capping their prices for those fleeing the hurricane. A small sign of humanity such as this might go a long way toward repairing their image.