Maria, a Category 5 hurricane, has already decimated the island of Dominica. It is now headed toward the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, where it could inflict a “potentially catastrophic” combination of winds, surging ocean waters and rain Tuesday night and Wednesday, forecasters say. One forecaster said Maria could be the most destructive hurricane in Puerto Rico’s history.
According to the flight tracking website, FlightAware.com, flights were still operating out of San Juan’s airport, Luis Munoz Marin International on Tuesday, but the vast majority of Wednesday’s flights had already been canceled.
It’s not clear whether the airlines opted to limit fares on their own or whether it came in response to a letter sent on Monday by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), that urged them cap fares just as they did during Hurricane Irma.
As Nelson noted in the days leading up to Irma’s arrival, many travelers trying to get out of Florida reported airlines charging $1,000-plus for one-way tickets out of the state. In his letter to the airlines Monday, Nelson, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the airline industry wrote:
I appreciate that several airlines ultimately capped airfare for some flights to and from affected areas after listening to these concerns. However, your assistance in preventing future airfare spikes in advance of hurricanes and making policies regarding capped airfares available to the public is needed immediately.As you know, Hurricane Maria is a major hurricane and is threatening Puerto Rico and the Caribbean now and may be a threat to the U.S. coast by next week. Therefore, I urge you to begin the process now for implementing capped airfare and ensuring that refunds are promptly issued for cancelled flights. I also request that your policies on capped airfare be communicated clearly and in writing so that affected residents can evacuate quickly and safely. Individuals and families should not be forced to delay or cancel their evacuation efforts because of confusion over the cost of airfare.
In a tweet that went viral during the lead-up to Hurricane Irma, an Arizona woman expressed outrage when the cost of a one-way ticket from Miami to Phoenix jumped from $547.50 to more than $3,200 in less than an hour. The reports led some of Nelson’s colleague to call on U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao to look into allegations of price gouging.
Airlines denied the allegations, but moved quickly to cap fares. JetBlue was the first to offer reduced fares for some seats on flights out of Florida. American, United and Delta soon followed.
Here’s what airlines are doing in the wake of Hurricane Maria:
Delta said it will cap one-way fares in its main cabin at $199 for flights out of San Juan, Punta Cana, Santiago and Santo Domingo through Thursday. Airline officials said they plan to continue operating flights from San Juan to its hubs in Atlanta and New York. It also added three flights in anticipation of demand. The airline said it may restart service in St. Thomas and Puerto Rico on Thursday, but that will depend on damage assessments following the storm. Flights to St. Maarten, which was badly damaged by Hurricane Irma could resume on Saturday. More details are available here.
The airline has also issued a travel waiver for passengers flying out of San Jose from today through Sept. 26, which will allow customers to change their travel plans without a fee. The waiver also covers travelers from St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Turks and Caicos with tickets issued through Dec. 31.
American has capped one-way, non-stop fares for seats in the main cabin at $99 and in premium cabins at $199 through Sunday. (Note: fares that involve a connection may be higher.) Here are the places where the fare cap will be in effect:
• Antigua, Antigua (ANU)
• Cap Haitien, Haiti (CAP)
• Port Au Prince, Haiti (PAP)
• Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands (PLS)
• Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic (POP)
• Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (PUJ)
• San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU)
• Santiago, Dominican Republic (STI)
• Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (SDQ)
• St. Croix Island, U.S. Virgin Islands (STX)
• St. Kitts, Saint Kitts and Nevis (SKB)
• St. Thomas Island, U.S. Virgin Islands (STT)
More details from American are available here.
United increased the size of some of the planes they operate in area where they anticipate high demand. The airline also added an extra flight slated to leave San Juan on Tuesday. United added nearly 500 seats to flights out of San Juan. The airline said it would cap fares at $384 plus tax for nonstop flights in economy class. More details of what to expect if you are flying United are available here.
JetBlue has not announced whether it will cap fares, but has issued a travel waiver for customers traveling between today and Saturday, to and from the following cities:
- Aguadilla, PR (BQN)
- Antigua (ANU)
- Barbados (BGI)
- Ponce, PR (PSE)
- Providenciales, Turks and Caicos (PLS)
- Puerto Plata, DR (POP)
- Punta Cana, DR (PUJ)
- San Juan, PR (SJU)
- Santiago, DR (STI)
- Santo Domingo, DR (SDQ)
- St. Croix (STX)
- St. Lucia (UVF)
- St. Maarten (SXM)
- St. Thomas (STT)
More details for JetBlue travelers are available here.