Hurricane Irma is bearing down on Florida, having already laid waste to parts of the Caribbean including St. Maarten and Barbuda, among other islands. The projected track can be somewhat uncertain as models are having a hard time converging on a solution. But it now seems that some part of Florida — either the east side or the west side — will be impacted as it roars up the coast.
And that’s the trouble with evacuating from south Florida. It can be tricky to get out of the path of a hurricane when you are on a peninsula that is hundreds of miles long. My friend Susan who lives near Homestead, recently posted that the projected track of Irma “includes her house, her primary evacuation route, and her backup route.” This is markedly different than evacuating from the Texas coast where you have roughly 180 degrees of freedom to choose from when selecting your escape vector. In Florida, everyone wants to go north.
Lots of folks will drive, of course, but flying out is also an option. That is, if you can find a flight that both has seats available, and which you can afford.
The affordability issue is problematic. Airlines prefer to use ticket prices to balance supply and demand. I mean, we live in a capitalistic society after all, and the US airlines are private for-profit enterprises. So the question becomes, is it reasonable for them to jack up prices ahead of an emergency so as to maximize their profits?
Are airlines price gouging ahead of Hurricane Irma?
I decided to explore the topic after seeing this on Twitter.
— Cindi Avila (@ChefCindi) September 6, 2017
Supposedly United was charging around $7,000 for a round-trip from Miami to Denver ahead of the storm. Now to be fair, I tried to replicate this and can’t, as did a few others. Most of the flights are sold out now, so I don’t think it can proven one way or the other. United barely serves Miami, after all, so they just don’t have that much capacity. There’s also the fact that United has been mucking with their pricing algorithms lately. All that said, I don’t doubt her finding, I just can’t replicate it.
So I decided to take a quick look around at airfares for those wanting to evacuate from central and south Florida.
United has a significant presence in Orlando. And they are making the most of it. I found tickets to Denver starting at $1,300. But hey, at least they aren’t in basic economy.
Or if you want to trade Irma for Harvey, you can go to Houston for $1,250 on United. That big front seat on Spirit at $175 + $40 might look pretty good.
Here’s a head-to-head comparison between United and American on their Orlando to Chicago route.
American certainly seems to be taking advantage of the opportunity.
On the other hand, Delta has some fares that look normal-ish for last minute tickets.
Look for award tickets to use your miles
I know this won’t be helpful to everyone, but my suggestion would be to look for award tickets out of Florida. One of the better aspects of American — which Ben failed to mention yesterday — is that they still have AAnytime Awards at 20,000 miles, which is generally lower than United and Delta. I found flights from Miami to Charlotte available, as well as Fort Lauderdale to Dallas.
It certainly appears that the airlines are charging more than usual for their flights out of Florida, even allowing for the fact that we are looking at last-minute tickets. They may or may not be charging $3,500 for a one-way flight, but fares are certainly approaching half of that. I don’t think that’s typical.
I have mixed feelings about this. Obviously there are a limited number of seats available out of south and central Florida, an almost insignificant number compared to the number of people trying to leave the area. But is it really right for airlines to take advantage of the situation to make a buck and sell their seats to the highest bidder? Should only those who can afford a king’s ransom be allowed to fly out of the state while everyone else clogs the highways? Or worse, is forced to shelter in place?
I don’t have the answers. But as I get older, I start to ask more and more questions…
How do you feel about airlines jacking up the prices as people are trying to flee natural disasters?