Airlines Add Flights, Cap Fares Out Of Florida… Except United?

[Edit:  This post has been updated with a clarification from United that they did indeed add six flights out of Florida and capped ticket prices on those flights at $399.}

Yesterday I posted about the claims that airlines were price gouging ahead of Hurricane Irma, which is projected to make landfall in Florida this weekend. Someone on Twitter posted a screenshot where United was supposedly charging as much as $6,000 for a round-trip flight between Miami and Denver. I was never able to corroborate that claim, but I certainly saw many instances of $1,500 one-way tickets. There were arguments on both sides as to whether this was ethical or not.

I guess I see both sides. On one hand, it seems unfair that only those with deep pockets should be able to fly out of harm’s way. And it doesn’t necessarily feel right for companies to make a lot of money off of someone’s misfortune, though of course that happens every day in lots of fields. But obviously there aren’t anywhere near enough seats to offer one to everyone. So how should they be allocated? The free market thinkers say that prices should be allowed to go where they may, and that will encourage other players to shift resources into the market, knowing they can make a few bucks.

The argument holds that without the allure of untold riches, nobody will offer a helping hand. That the only thing that motivates anyone to do pretty much anything is money. Otherwise we’d all just sit on our couches and watch the opening of the NFL season this weekend. Or something like that.

JetBlue decided to buck that trend. They announced yesterday that they would sell their remaining seats on flights out of Florida for $99, or $159 for those with a connection. I called it the right thing.

To be sure, I don’t think for a minute that they did this solely out of the goodness of their hearts. I think they weighed all the factors, and decided that the perception of doing good for people in need was worth more than the revenue they would receive in higher fares.

There’s nothing wrong with that of course.

Well, it turns out that other airlines have followed suit.

More airlines capping fares ahead of Hurricane Irma

American has announced that they will sell “main Cabin seats on direct, single leg flights out of Florida” for $99. There is a ticket by September 10 and fly by September 13 restriction.

I decided to test that by looking at the Miami to Charlotte route. Using Google Flights, you can clearly see that, when seats are available, they are $99 through September 13.

For their part, Delta also announced that they would cap fares at $399 and switch to larger planes to help people evacuate. These flights will depart from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Key West.

I did a search to Detroit, well out of harm’s way. Indeed, the highest fare over those dates was $399.

Not to be left out, United posted… a weather waiver. So I was curious to look at some United fares to see if they had adjusted their pricing. You tell me.

[Edit:  United has reached out to clarify that they did add six additional flights yesterday and today, and capped fares for those flights at $399.]

Bottom line

It’s certainly interesting to see how the airlines have reacted to charges of price gouging as people try to flee south Florida.

Delta and American have mostly joined JetBlue in setting a cap on their fares, and in some places, adding capacity. Apparently so has United, albeit their smaller presence in Florida makes it perhaps less visible.

At any rate, I’m glad to see that some of the airlines have recognized the benefits of goodwill — which are often very hard to quantify — and done what many will consider to be the right thing.

No, it won’t have any measurable impact in terms of helping the masses flee Florida, but for those able to secure one of the additional seats that have been added, it will be appreciated.

What do you make of Delta and American capping fares out of Florida?


  1. I appreciated the article – and the balance. Im actually typing this at PBI waiting for jet blue flight to LGA.

    Just so you can understand the frustrations of south Floridians, the stirm is expected to hit friday night into Saturday with the brunt of the force to hit in the evening.

    Flights can be $10, but there simply wont be any flights as they will be canceled- planes cant fly in those conditions

  2. I also appreciate the more balanced take in this article. Gary (viewfromthewing) brought up something very important to think about. It sure sounds great to cap fares at such a low price, but this does no one any good if the prices are low enough that people make speculative purchases to try and guarantee a way out. At least increases in capacity actually help the task of getting people out.

    There’s no way to get around the fact that airplanes are NOT a practical way to evacuate millions of people.

  3. Exactly, so there are no assholes in this world. Only bad business people. The guy who leaves his wife of 30 years for a young hot blonde is making business choice, an ROI analysis. Just like his wife did 30 years ago deciding to pick him instead of Tom in the hardware store.

    So people, if I say i don’t give a rats bum what happens to people in Florida or Texas its because in my calculation it’s not worth building any good will with them. Now who’s fault is that?

  4. capping is dumb as hell. Funny enough, it’s the richer people who would buy $99 disposable throw-away backup tickets instead of going through the proper channels of rebooking, and yanking away all the inventory, and leaving those who don’t have that extra disposable cash with no more seat inventory to leave the state.

    you can bet top dollar that airlines won’t be overselling any of these flights, so if the $99 throw-away ticket is a no-show, there’s a certain chance a seat might actually go out empty. Now that’s a waste for hurricane evacuation.

    It’s funny how these “consumer friendly” policies you’re promoting inadvertently benefit the richer ones.

  5. Oh but United CEO is such a nice guy. He will soon come out with a new “heartwarming video” like Matthew from Live and Let’s Fly likes to refer to them. Pure marketing!!!!!! If you are not willing to help just be quiet and not use the misery of others to promote yourself and your company.

  6. @debit

    The guy who leaves his wife of 30 years for a young hot blonde is indeed making a business decision – a BAD one. One he gets done paying off the ex wife there will be no money left and Ms. Hot Blonde will move on to her next business decision.

  7. Sorry, but the free market does not say anything about ethics, and having flights available only to those with the deepest pockets is not ethical. Any criticism of the price caps without discussion of how to actually implement it in a better way is just libertarian circlejerk contrarianism. Think of a real solution, because the free market is not one.

  8. @rjb

    Doubt it. The most a spouse gets is half. If you your are in your 60s get to sleep with a blonde in her 20s regularly half the wealth is fine. And when you are in your 90s and the young blonde had taken the other half of your wealth is fine too. At that time all you care of those sweet memories.

    So in other words guys that society normally calls as cheating scumbags are actually the most generous people you will ever meet. Giving away all their wealth to others. All hail the cheaters!

  9. You know why most of those “consumer advocates” aka professional bullies are losers ? Company XYZ can do a trillion goodwill things and those “advocates” will instantly turn their backs once something less fortunate happens because their reputation of being holier-than-thou hypocrites is more important than anything else.

    Another reason why I never bother with goodwill and charity.

  10. @Ray the local FL and TX govts are free to provide cash vouchers to allow those who cannot pay, to buy these airplane tickets. They can get the money by implementing income taxes.

  11. To be fare (get it?), a search of Google Flights over the next several days do show lots of competitive, cheap fares on United.

    It’s Basic Economy, so one might be more comfortable riding out the storm…..

  12. Well JetBlue did this on their own volition. There fares werent even that bad compared to others as it was before. They lowered their fares to help get as much people out of harms way as they could affordably. So hats off to them. Delta and American put in a cap in response to the shit storm they got when their prices hit absurd levels and in response to B6 doing a responsible, customer friendly thing. Whether DL and AA price gouged or the system did it is another story. United, well. I never expect them to do anything decent so no shock here.

  13. FLL was a cluster*ck today. ATC could not handle the additional flights. Waited an hour on the tarmac before taking off and nearly missed my connection in Orlando where there were absolutely not gonna be any seats later.

  14. Try actually clicking through to the United site and booking one of those fares. They’re not very accurate. And its not just on United. I was scrambling to get out of the MIA area and realized that the inventory and prices were changing so fast that on the majority of the airlines, Google was just directing me to their website, and I had to do a second search there. In many cases, the fares were even higher on the websites than listed on Google, particularly on American. Point being that in the future for situations where demand is extremely high and prices and inventory may be changing rapidly, don’t trust Google Flights to provide accurate information on price and availability.

  15. So this us to Travis who always writes well- and the rest of this very informed blog. While we did overpay significantly for our Jetblue escape flight last Thursday from PBI to lag, we did make it home.

    In the spirit of what the blog teaches me, I decided to call Jetblue last Friday and explain that I was confused – while they capped flights at $99 and advertised that everplace they could, we paid significantly more. Today – tuesday- they refunded the overcharge back to my credit card!
    I have to say I thought that was a goid gesture. I have been telling all I can and they too have been getting refunds.

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