Are Airlines Gouging Prices To Take Advantage Of Desperate Travelers, Trying To Get Home?

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One thing I’m reading a lot about these days is complaints from people who end up having to buy an extremely expensive ticket to catch one of the last remaining flights back home from wherever they are right now.

This might contribute to the impression that airlines are taking advantage of their position at the moment and charge a hefty premium on whatever flights are left in the system.

In this case the question is also if that what one would consider priced above and beyond anything reasonable and under normal circumstances justifiable with supply and demand is actually ethical and legal in these times.

Reacting to a range of different complaint that involve many different airlines one should compare and see if this is systemic or simply fluctuating prices on a case by case basis.

I was in the position of helping several people getting a new flight in the last few weeks and can report different experiences that I compare to responses I read about in the media from other consumers.

One friend of mine was suddenly stuck in India after the Lufthansa Group voluntarily pulled all their flights weeks ago and left Delhi passengers high and dry. Then the Indian Government announced a one week flight ban (for now) and let’s just the the willingness from Lufthansa to rebook to the passenger on another flight were abysmal – they refused.

There were two flights available in Economy and one in Business:

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  • Economy on Oman Air with a 12 hour Layover in Muscat at $890
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  • A two stop connection with Vistara and British Airways in Economy via Mumbai/London $1819
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  • Etihad Business Class Delhi-Abu Dhabi-Frankfurt $3486 (Full Fare J)

The original LH flight was booked in Business Class and I suggested my friend since he can afford it to buy Business and later claim the money back from Lufthansa as they refused their duty of care. Worst case: sue them!

I found these particular options to be very reasonable in price. Others I read about, not so much:

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  • One lady complained in a British Airways focused social media group that she had to pay out a whopping GBP 2891 (US$ 3363) for a one way Economy flight to go from San Jose, Costa Rica to London Gatwick. BA had zeroed all inventory and only sold full fare Y.
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  • Another customer complained on Twitter that Thai Airways is selling only full fare on their route between Bangkok and Seoul, charging roughly US$900 one way while Korean Air Economy runs for US$400 I checked on that claim and it appears to be true on a daily basis.

It’s the same picture pretty much every day. Thai only has ONE flight left here and they are squeezing out the big bucks. Actually you can purchase the same flight as Asiana codeshare and save roughly $120 sitting on exactly the same plane.

Meanwhile flying within the U.S. is extremely cheap from what I’ve seen on different routes.

I find it problematic when availability and pricing is artificially modified to the point where is really hurts in situations where passengers are desperate to get out. This should be looked at by the respective consumer legislative councils and regulators.

Paying $3000+ for an Economy ticket in these times is just crazy and puts the person in an extremely difficult financial position once at home.

Conclusion

Different jurisdictions have different laws and interpretations of what constitutes price gouging. In the end one has to consider that these airlines *might* fly one way relatively empty and the other full so they have to take that into account and design the pricing so it’s worthwhile for them to operate. Unless of cause they receive a mandate (and compensation) from the government.

John had an interesting article this morning about the repatriation flights organized by various governments and that people are often outraged when they learn that these flights come at a cost. Usually it’s an affordable flat rate based on the Economy price on the same route.