United, American and Delta Accused of Hiking Fares During Hurricane Irma (JetBlue Wasn’t)

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Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

Can you imagine airline executives sitting in some comfortable lair, sipping on a fine malt and muttering excitedlyinto the air: “Hey, a hurricane is coming! We can make money out of this!”?

You can?

That’s the problem, isn’t it?

It’s believable.

And so it has transpired, as thousands of people try to flee Florida to get away from Hurricane Irma, some passengers have blown fury at airlines.

Here’s flyer Leigh Dow accusing Delta: “Shame on you @delta. Jacking from $547 to over $3200 for people trying to evacute responsibly? #IrmaHurricane.”

But surely someone’s going to accuse the industry’s current bête-noir, United, aren’t they?

Here you are, from the New Pornographers’ Carl Newman: “Jet Blue caps flights out of Florida at $99. United charging $6000.”

Newman wasn’t alone in suggesting that United wasn’t playing fair.

But Miami is something of a hub for American. Are digital fingers pointing at it too?

Well, yes. Here’s John Lyons on Facebook: “Very bad job by American Airlines. Booked a one-way ticket last night for my daughter to come home this Thursday night using this exact itinerary. Paid $160.00. Now with hurricane warnings in effect, American is gouging for the same ticket to the tune of over $1000 per person and close friends daughter who cannot afford is stranded.​”

I contacted each airline to wonder what they had to say.

American told me that it had not changed its pricing structure and that it had actually added flights from the affected areas as much as it was able.

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“While there are limited seats remaining before the storm hits, we will cap our pre-tax fares at $99 for Main Cabin seats on direct, single leg flights out of Florida for tickets sold through Sunday Sept. 10 for travel until Sept. 13,” a spokesperson told me.

As for United, it insisted that there had been a glitch in its system, as it didn’t normally fly its larger planes on domestic flights, so the computers got a little confused and accidentally showed First Class fares, a confusion that has now been fixed.

“United did not change how we priced our seats for flights out of Florida, and we will be offering additional flights out of Florida today and tomorrow to help more customers in those affected areas,” an airline spokesman told me. “For those flights we have added, we have taken steps to reduce those fares beyond what a regular last minute fare would be.”

Delta didn’t get back to me, but it told BuzzFeed News that Expedia was at fault with Dow’s revelation, not the airline.

But here’s the real problem. It didn’t have to come to this.

Once these airlines knew a hurricane was coming, they could have immediately and proactively offered special low fares as a gesture to those who needed to flee.

Yes, they might have lost a little money.

But it would have been the perfect emotional surprise for brands that aren’t too far above the distaste level of Martin Shkreli.

The airlines know they are targets.

It would have been an excellent ad campaign for them, while helping customers enormously in extremely stressful times.

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Sometimes, it just takes a simple, thoughtful gesture for people to think differently of you.

JetBlue, for example, automatically reduced its fares to $99, before American matched it.

Which airline do you think customers will want to fly next time?

This doesn’t mean that any of the big airlines were price-gouging. It’s simply that no one seems to have stopped to proactively consider what the right thing to do might be.

That’s what happens when vast system and rules dictate.

Thinking about your customers as humans, rather than profit centers, can go a long way.



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