MIAMI — Miami native Lissette Diaz is frantically trying to fly her family out from South Florida in case Hurricane Irma hits. But it may cost her thousands of dollars.
By Wednesday, prices for flights out of South Florida skyrocketed as high as more than $3,000 per person for domestic flights that would otherwise cost a fraction of the price during what’s typically one of the slowest times of the year for air travel.
Diaz, who grew up in Miami but is in school at Andrews University in Michigan, scoured Expedia.com Tuesday afternoon for a flight for her mother, adult cousin, 71-year-old grandmother and 11-year-old sister to New York.
There was only one option left: A Wednesday Delta Air Lines flight from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York with one stop. The price was $1,318.80. Per person.
Diaz was one of many frustrated travelers trying to book a flight from South Florida Tuesday as news of Irma’s strengthening into a Category 5 hurricane sent ripples of fear through the region.
In Florida, price gouging is illegal following a declared state of emergency. However, 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.
Attorney General Pam Bondi has activated a price gouging hotline for consumers who believe they have been victims of unlawful hikes. Bondi’s office said via a statement that it is “receiving complaints about airline tickets and making phone calls to airlines requesting voluntary compliance.”
On Twitter, travelers aired out their struggles finding flights for a reasonable price — or any flight at all.
“Totally unacceptable, a $358 flight from Miami to NYC went up to $3578. Why should expect anything decent from these airlines???,” tweeted user joerileyhudson.
Antonio Mercurius was on the lucky few. On Monday, he got a flight from Miami to Washington, D.C., for Thursday for $225, before the frenzy began.
When he looked at the flights again on Tuesday, they had risen to $1,900 per person.
“Why is there no emergency evacuation cost? I understand supply and demand, but the laws of capitalism should not operate in the times of catastrophic danger. What happens to the people that can’t afford flights now?” said Mercurius, a at the University of Miami.
But the laws of supply and demand apply in hurricanes as they do year-round and the hefty price tags aren’t unusual for last-minute tickets, said Seth Kaplan, managing partner at trade publication Airline Weekly. Prices can change dramatically when tickets are purchased less than three days before departure.
“The situation is that there just aren’t enough seats for everyone who wants to fly,” Kaplan said. “What we’re seeing, with the very expensive fares for the few seats that remain, is just their standard pricing for any flight anywhere that’s in high demand. ... It basically becomes an auction for the few seats that remain.”
Kaplan said it’s clear airlines aren’t price gouging because most flights are completely sold out. Without a way to anticipate a storm, the airlines didn’t start charging higher prices until the last second — as they would with any last minute seats.
“The fact that everything was gone so quickly tells me that (not having time to react and adjust anything manually) airlines were selling seats rather inexpensively, so most of the seats were quickly gone ... and then, yes, you’ll see that last seat selling for a crazy price,” Kaplan said.