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Travelers complain of steep airfares as they try to escape Hurricane Irma's path

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·Former Correspondent
·7 min read
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What John Lyon saw on Tuesday when he went to book his daughter’s roommate a ticket home from Miami.
What John Lyon saw on Tuesday when he went to book his daughter’s roommate a ticket home from Miami.

On Monday evening, John Lyons, a 53-year-old father from West Hartford, Connecticut, purchased a one-way American Airlines ticket from Miami to Hartford for $159.20 for his daughter to get out of Hurricane Irma’s path as the storm churns through the Caribbean.

On Tuesday, he was shocked at the spike in airfare prices.

“I logged in and expected to see $160, and frankly if I had seen $260 I wouldn’t have reacted. And I logged in and saw, $1,020, and I about had a heart attack,” Lyons told Yahoo Finance in a phone interview on Tuesday afternoon.

Lyons, who describes himself as an “amateur meteorologist,” likes to post weather reports on West Hartford’s Facebook page. Although Hurricane Irma poses no direct threat to where he lives, he has been following the storm’s developments.

“I’m seeing the direct hit on Florida. My daughter is down at the University of Miami, so I called her and said, ‘I’m going to bring you home. If worst comes to worst, we waste money, and you don’t come home, and this thing misses you, and everything is fine.’ I logged in last night and saw $159.20 to be exact. I said you know what; this ticket is so cheap, I’m just going to buy it.”

The next day, he went back to look for a ticket for his daughter’s roommate, who is also a close family friend’s daughter. Shocked at the price increase, he said he even made sure that he didn’t click first class by accident and he also verified that the flight had pretty much the same number of seats available compared to when he checked last night.

“American Airlines had the audacity to raise the rate $800. I’m sorry. I posted it. You know, I’m angry. I think it’s horrible what they are doing. I just think it’s horrible. I’ll leave it at that.”

“We have not changed our fare structures, and, in fact have added capacity to help get customers out of the affected areas,” an American Airlines spokeswoman said in a statement. “We have added several extra flights – from St. Maarten (SXM), St. Kitts (SKB), Providenciales, Turks and Caicos (PLS); and San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU) – in addition to upgrading aircraft when possible. In addition, we have 33 airports included in our waiver program so customers will not be charged change fees or difference in fare with tickets for passengers who already held tickets. Full details on the waiver can be found at www.aa.com/travelalerts.

Lyons said that he’s traveled to Florida many times and has never had that sort of price tag, even last minute.

“I have booked trips to and from south Florida from Connecticut, short notice during peak holiday periods and I’ve never paid more than $600 or $700 round trip. It is appalling what American Airlines is doing. Like, literally, I’m sick to my stomach over this,” Lyons said. “This is outrageous behavior. Peoples’ lives are at stake.”

Some major airlines are now offering fares above $1,000 for one-way tickets out of Florida and customers have taken to social media to express their outrage.

On Tuesday, a woman on Twitter with the handle @LeighDow tweeted a screengrab of a Delta ticket price changing from $547.50 to $3,258.50. Two hours later, she tweeted again saying “@Delta reached out & helped tremendously. Note to travelers, always call airline directly if something doesn’t look right.”

Yahoo Finance looked at prices using Matrix Airfare Search by the ITA Matrix, a tool for searching the lowest fares on every airline.

At the time of this writing, a one-way ticket from Fort Lauderdale to Newark for Wednesday, Sept. 6 costs $1,326 on Delta Airlines (DAL) with a layover in Atlanta, while another flight on the same route at a slightly different times costs $1,526.

A one-way, non-direct economy ticket on Delta from Miami to New York, with a layover in Minneapolis-St. Paul, costs anywhere between $873 and $1,358, the site shows. A Delta ticket from Miami to Boston, with an overnight layover in Orlando, is going for $1,879.

Delta didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, a one-way ticket on American Airlines (AAL) from Miami to a New York City-area airport, all of which stop in Dallas-Fort Worth, costs anywhere from $837 to $1,240.

American airfare
American airfare

Elsewhere, JetBlue’s (JBLU) non-direct, one-way tickets from Fort Lauderdale to the New York area range from $433 to $492, but they all connect through San Juan Airport in Puerto Rico, which is in the path of the storm.

Those folks in Florida aren’t the only ones trying to escape Irma’s path. Many were unable to get out of the Caribbean.

Stranded in the Caribbean

Klaudia Harris was supposed to celebrate her 19th birthday on Tuesday in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Instead, the Alabama native, is hunkering down in a three-story villa at The Westin Resort on St. John with her boyfriend, mom, and stepdad as Hurricane Irma barrels toward the island chain.

Their group arrived on Saturday evening. By Sunday, they received a letter on their door about the progress of Irma. They quickly began looking for flights back to the states.

“We were prepared to spend any amount to get off this island,” Harris said in a phone interview. “There were no plane tickets at all. We were prepared to fly to California to New York. We just wanted to get off the island but couldn’t find tickets.”

At one point, she said her mom found an itinerary with a layover in Puerto Rico that would have cost $5,000. By the time her mom went to purchase the tickets, they were gone.

Vincent Magenti, a 22-year-old from Florida, is also trapped on St. Thomas at the Margaritaville Vacation Club with his girlfriend and eight other family members.

They were expecting to leave on the Spirit Airlines (SAVE) flight at 4:19 p.m. on Tuesday out of Cyril E. King Airport heading back to Fort Lauderdale. At 1:30 a.m., they received an email that it had been canceled.

According to a notice Magenti received at his hotel, Spirit was the only major airline to cancel flights in and out of St. Thomas on Tuesday.

A representative from Spirit didn’t return requests for comment.

Like many others, Magenti and his family are waiting out the storm with stocked refrigerators.

Klaudia Harris’ family is doing the same thing.

“We went to the marketplace yesterday and bought necessities like water, sandwich meat, bread, milk, cereal. We cooked meat for meals yesterday because they turned off the gas this morning.”

She said that neighbors and locals had come together to help each other out ahead of this storm.

“If you think the world is not nice anymore, you should come to the U.S. Virgin Islands during a hurricane, and you’ll change your mind.”

UPDATE: Early Wednesday afternoon, JetBlue capped its ticket prices on direct flight out of Florida at $99, while connecting flights were capped at $159. The airline also added more flights.

Delta also reduced the price level of its highest fares. The airline added more flights and larger aircraft to hold more passengers.

On Wednesday afternoon, American Airlines said it would also cap its airfare.

“While there are limited seats remaining before the storm hits, we will cap our pre-tax fares at $99 for MainCabin seats on direct, single leg flights out of Florida for tickets sold through Sunday Sept. 10 for travel until Sept. 13,” a spokeswoman said in a statement to Yahoo Finance.