Here’s the backstory:
Dow had been watching her friends search frantically for an available flight for their daughter, who had just started her freshman year at the University of Miami. With Hurricane Irma bearing down on South Florida, the girl’s parents — and Dow’s colleagues — were eager to get her home. Dow joined the frantic search scouring the Web for airfares and was startled to find that some one-way tickets from Miami were going for three or four times the normal price.
With the exception of Southwest Airlines, Dow said all the tickets were “severely inflated.” She’s a Florida native who lived through Hurricane Andrew and knows the market well. She knew a one-way ticket, purchased at the last minute, might run $400 to $500, but the fares she was seeing were more in the range of $1,700. She then went to Expedia.com. That’s when she got really mad.
The fare for a one-way ticket on Delta had changed from $547.50 to more than $3,200. She took a shot of the screen and tweeted.
Cue Twitterverse outrage.
To their credit, Delta officials responded right away. Dow was connected with a customer service representative and her friends’ daughter was able to find a seat on a flight out of Miami for $315.
As for why the fare was so grossly inflated, Delta officials weren’t quite sure since the price quoted was from Expedia’s website.
“We have not increased prices in response to the hurricane,” said Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter.
An Expedia spokeswoman emailed this response from Sarah Gavin, vice president of global communications: “It is against our values as well as our policies to use any lever under our control to increase prices related to incidents like Hurricane Irma.”
In an interview, Gavin said it is hard to know exactly what happened. She said the company tried to investigate but was unable to replicate Dow’s experience. Gavin theorized that because of high demand for flights, the cheaper tickets may have sold out, bumping potential travelers to a more expensive fare class. She said that while Expedia does have its own formula for determining the airfares that appear on the site, that formula is driven by the prices set by the airlines.
“There is no scenario where we’d pull various levers to harm consumers,” she said. “Our job is to help consumers not hurt them.”
Meantime, Dow, who now lives in Arizona, said the entire experience taught her an important lesson: Sometimes reaching out to a real person, can make a huge difference.
This post has been updated.