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Examples of 'price gouging' during Hurricane Irma were aberrations, airlines say

Even before Hurricane Irma reached land in Florida, airline passengers were accusing air carriers on social media of taking advantage of the oncoming disaster with exorbitantly high fares.

Florida Atty. Gen. Pam Bondi opened a hotline to take reports of alleged price gouging by airlines, gasoline stations and other businesses.

But airlines say the examples of price gouging that have been posted on social media over the past week have been aberrations and flukes. Instead, the carriers say, they cut prices and added hundreds of flights to help evacuate people in the path of the hurricane.

FlyersRights.org, the passenger advocacy group with more than 60,000 members, posted a report that listed what it calls examples of price gouging by United Airlines and Delta Air Lines.

The report includes a screen grab from the travel booking site Expedia, showing a seat on a Delta flight from Miami to Phoenix for $3,258, compared to an earlier price of $547. The Twitter user who posted the image tried to book the Sept. 6 flight on the previous day.

Delta spokesman Anthony Black said Delta can’t speak for the prices charged through Expedia but he said the Atlanta-based airline began on Sept. 5 to disable the pricing algorithm that automatically increases prices as seats run out. He added that Delta began on Sept. 6 to cap the prices for all seats on flights out of Florida and the Caribbean at $399.

“Delta did not increase prices as a result of the hurricane," Black said. Delta added flights out of Florida with a total of 13,000 seats to help the evacuation, he said.

The Twitter user who originally posted the screen shot posted a follow-up tweet about two hours later, saying she called Delta by phone and was “helped tremendously” by the carrier.

Another image circulated on social media shows a $6,785 price for a seat on a United Airlines flight from Miami to Colorado. But other travelers have since posted screen grabs on Twitter with prices for the same route that were dramatically lower.

The seats that were shown for $6,785 were in an elite first-class section but were erroneously posted as coach seats, a United Airlines spokesman said.

The carrier did not change the way it priced tickets during the hurricane, the airline said, noting that United added 11 new flights to evacuate people out of south Florida, at an average price of $285 per seat. United also capped fares at $399.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

To read more about the travel and tourism industries, follow @hugomartin on Twitter.

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