Senators ask Transportation Department to look into airline price gouging during Irma
Some call it the law of supply and demand; others say it’s price-gouging. This week, with Hurricane Irma on the horizon and scores of residents and tourists trying to flee, the price flights out of some Florida increased dramatically.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., fired off a letter to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao on Wednesday urging her to look into reports of airfares as high as $3,000 from Miami to New York. In the letter, the senators urged Chao to keep a close eye on airline pricing practices.
“Airlines certainly have a right to a reasonable return for services rendered and vagaries in pricing are to be expected; but airlines have no right to impose exorbitant, unfair prices on Americans simply trying to get out of harm’s way,” they wrote. “As many federal officials work relentlessly to protect Americans from the kinds of harm Hurricane Irma may bring, it is imperative that DOT use all resource at its disposal to protect consumers from the harm that comes from outrageous and oppressive fares.”
Though they concede that fares may be higher than expected, airlines said they have not artificially inflated prices because of the storm. At least one airline - JetBlue - actually discounted some Florida fares for people trying to flee Irma.
Blumenthal and Markey have made a name for themselves, championing a series of bills aimed at making air travel more consumer friendly. In the wake of an incident in which a man was dragged from a United flight as it sat on the tarmac at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, they pushed a bill to expand traveler protections and require a study of airline overbooking polices.
While such measures may be an uphill battle with a Republican majority in Congress and a Republican in the White House - they are not giving up.
DOT, which has the authority to look into such matters, confirmed this week that it had received several complaints and would be looking into the reports. Travelers who think they may be victims of price gouging can file complaints with the Office of the Assistant General Counsel for Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings’ Aviation Consumer Protection Division.
The Florida Attorney General’s office, which activated its price gouging hotline on Sunday, also is monitoring reports. Though the state’s anti-price gouging statues don’t cover airline tickets, a spokeswoman said that they have contacted airlines requesting voluntary compliance. Individuals can file a complaint by calling: 1-866-966-7226.
There were also allegations of price gouging related to Hurricane Harvey which ripped through Texas last month.
In 2015, after Amtrak 188 derailed near Philadelphia, DOT investigated allegations of price gouging among five airlines: American, JetBlue, Delta, Southwest and United. The Northeast Corridor, which runs between Washington, D.C., and Boston is one of the most traveled stretches in the country. Despite reports of airfares as high as $2,300 following the derailment that killed eight people and injured more than a hundred others, after examining more than 5,000 pages of documents, the department found no wrongdoing.