Travelers trying to leave cities in Hurricane Irma’s path are facing exorbitant flight prices, and are accusing airlines of price gouging.
Twitter user @LeighDow, who tried to leave Miami, Fla. for Phoenix, Ariz. Wednesday, shared an image on Twitter showing that a Delta flight making two stops had gone from $547.50 to $3,258.50 in price.
“Shame on you @delta. Jacking from $547 to over $3200 for people trying to evacuate responsibly?,” she tweeted Tuesday afternoon.
But customers’ fury may be misdirected, as airlines claim the steep price hikes aren’t deliberate. Rather, algorithms that measure supply, demand, and competitor pricing and adjust in real time are to blame for pricey tickets.
Airline systems also factor in no-shows — and thus sell seats at high levels to cover the costs associated with bumping passengers from overbooked flights, Quartz reported.
Comedian Chelsea Handler added to the confusion Wednesday tweeting, “Totally f—ed up and unacceptable. Boycott DELTA AIRLINES. These are people’s lives.”
Irma, a Category 5 storm is currently packing winds at speeds higher than 180 mph. It is expected to rip through Puerto Rico Wednesday and hit the coast of Florida by the weekend.
Airline spokespeople defended the sky-high fares Wednesday.
“We have not changed our pricing structure, and, in fact have added capacity to help get customers out of the affected areas,” American Airlines said in a statement to the Daily News.
“We are doing everything we can to get our customers out of the way of Hurricane Irma. We have upgraded some flights to larger aircraft when possible and have added an extra flight from MIA to DFW this afternoon,” the statement read. “Unfortunately, we are at capacity at Miami, but will continue to look at additional options. We are anticipating having to stop operations over the weekend.”
The extra flights were added from St. Maarten, St. Kitts, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The airline also said it would impose a $99 cap on main cabin seats on flights out of Florida for tickets purchased through Sunday, Sept. 10 for travel until Sept. 13.
Other airlines enacted similar policies to assist evacuees.
JetBlue also capped airfares at $99 on flights out of Florida.
Delta capped fares at $399 for flights to and from southern Florida through Sept. 13., according to a statement on its website. The airline is also waiving baggage and pet-in-cabin fees for customers travelling to or from cities covered by a weather waiver.
Travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt said that the price hikes are not unusual.
“There’s only so much airline capacity to any destination. When bad weather hits, there’s typically a surge of last-minute demand. Normally, these last-minute fares may be expensive,” he said.
“When bad weather may affect a city or region, an airline can make more last-minute, lower-fare seats available to help people who need to travel find and get an affordable fare.”