Irma and Harvey delivered a one-two punch to two major airline hubs: Houston and Miami. We've heard a lot about the electrical grid, the impact on roads and infrastructure, but what effect did the hurricanes have on airline businesses?
“It’s definitely been one of the busier hurricane seasons for the airline industry,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram business reporter Andrea Ahles says.
Massive cancellations, skyrocketing fuel prices and allegations of price gouging are just some of the things affecting the operations of Southwest and United, which both have major hubs in Houston, and American, with a major hub in Miami. Even Delta, which has a hub in Atlanta, saw some disruption related to Hurricane Irma.
“What I’ve seen is about 25,000 flights were cancelled over this sort of two week period that we’ve seen. And even today we’re still seeing effects though on the flight schedules,” Ahles says.
According to Ahles, American is flying limited schedules out of Miami to Key West, Trinidad and Tobago, and they are not planning on starting service to Cuba until Monday. But the biggest challenge to getting back on schedule isn’t that airplanes can’t fly, it’s that there’s no one to crew the crafts or staff the airports in these places.
“They’re dealing with the aftermath of having severe damage to their property, and so they’re not really thinking about getting into work,” Ahles says of airline employees.
Fuel prices are also posing problems for airlines. There has been a slight increase in the cost of jet fuel, which is selling for about 10 cents more than it did before the hurricanes hit, according to Ahles.
“Ten cents may not seem like a lot, but when you’re using millions of gallons of fuel to run your airline it does impact your bottom line,” she says.
Airlines have been accused of passing these price increases on to customers through price gouging. United was accused of charging $1100 for last-minute tickets from Miami to Atlanta. But most airlines were quick to react, changing their fares after receiving accusations of price gouging.
“Right now you still have all the airlines pretty much having travel advisories through Sunday, September 17, where they are not charging change fees if you had flights already booked, or if you do need to get out there… they are not overcharging,” she says.
Airlines claimed that the price gouging was not intentional, but rather due to automatic pricing algorithms that upped prices based on increased demand during the hurricanes.
Written by Kate Groetzinger.