There was no shortage of stories about businesses stepping up to the plate to assist Houstonians after hurricane Harvey.
Heartfelt concern was responsible for increasing options for citizens suffering from water damage.
Airbnb even deferred its service charges and asked property owners to open their listings for free to those displaced by Harvey.
In contrast to that generous spirit were the major airlines’ greedy business practices.
Top Florida price gouging complaints: food, water and … airlines
Last week, Florida’s attorney general, Pam Bondi, said her office had received more than 8,000 complaints of price gouging by airlines and fuel companies that were taking advantage of people evacuating.
When Florida Gov. Rick Scott advised people who may be in the path of Hurricane Irma to “leave now,” it posed a challenge for those who tried to fly out of airports in south Florida. Many found the price of a single seat to fly, say, just from Miami to New York could cost several thousand dollars for a family of four.
In Florida, price gouging is illegal following a declared state of emergency. However, the airlines are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation and are not subject to Florida’s price gouging statute.
So, Bondi personally made calls to Delta and JetBlue to cap one-way flights out of South Florida, under threats of naming and shaming.
The airlines said they had to ‘override algorithms’ and use their ‘human powers’ to manually lower their fares out of Florida.
NPR’s Scott Simon noted that when Americans are hit by hurricanes and asked to make sacrifices for neighbors and strangers, most don’t respond with, “Sorry, the algorithms won’t let me.”
Eventually, Delta limited their Florida outbound fares to $399 (after receiving a torrent of criticism for ticket prices ranging from $500 to $3,200) and JetBlue capped fares at $99. By the end of the week, American and United matched them.
“I do not regulate these airlines, but I am going to protect Floridians and I have the White House on standby if they aren’t doing their jobs,” Bondi said
“Basically stealing from our citizens”
Bondi continued, “We see families trying to get out, and airlines trying to make a quick buck when people are at their lowest and most vulnerable state. We agree with supply and demand, and that’s why anti-price gouging laws kick in only during an emergency. Because you cannot steal from our citizens. That’s basically what they’re trying to do.”
Snopes, which is known for its ability to dig deeply into controversial claims, did some research on claims that airlines inflated prices ahead of hurricane Irma. Snapshots of United Airlines web pages with prices for Miami departures ranging above $3,000 could be found on Snopes’ site, with a list of price changes the airline later implemented after consumers complained and in order to “get folks out” of harm’s way.
In defending United’s pricing, the company’s spokesperson Frank Benenati told Snopes that the exorbitant prices were the result of “glitches” and were later corrected, and that the company “was attempting to do the right thing.”
Amid complaints of airlines taking advantage of those fleeing Hurricane Irma, Senators Richard Blumenthal and Edward J. Markey have written to Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao, asking her to look into reports of possible price gouging.
In their letter to Transportation Secretary Chao, Senators Blumenthal and Markey wrote:
“Airlines certainly have a right to a reasonable return for services rendered and vagaries in pricing are to be expected; but airlines have no right to impose exorbitant, unfair prices on Americans simply trying to get out of harm’s way.”
Florida Representative Charlie Crist also wrote a letter to Ms. Chao, calling for an investigation of United Airlines after receiving several complaints over airfare increases.
The perception isn’t good for the airline industry that’s seen plenty of bad press lately, but these price hikes sparking another public relations fiasco may just be business as usual.
“Flyersrights.org calls on all airlines with flights affected by Hurricanes Irma or Harvey to do the right thing and refrain from profiteering or price gouging based on these natural disasters and also to waive change and cancellation fees. Airlines should also consider a flat fare of $99 for residents in the affected areas who were forced to evacuate or are returning to their homes and for volunteer disaster relief workers.” said Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.