As of 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 7, Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez had expanded mandatory evacuation orders for all residents of Zones A, B and C in advance of Hurricane Irma's landfall in the area, which is expected in a couple of days. This will only intensify an exodus that was already in motion.
Brands have to be extremely sensitive about how they show support in times of crisis. It's all too easy to come across as crass and opportunistic, despite the best of intentions. Airlines, though, are in a unique position when a natural disaster strikes. They don't have to tweet "our thoughts are with all the folks in (fill in the blank). Stay strong!" They can take real, life-changing action. They can help get people out of a danger zone at a fair price.
And that's exactly what JetBlue, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have done. On Sept. 6, JetBlue began capping at $99 one-way direct flights leaving Florida through Sept. 13, according to the Miami Herald. American followed suit, also saying it was capping pre-tax fares at $99. Delta also announced it was capping one-way fares at $399 for flights to and from southern Florida through Sept. 13.
Nevertheless, Delta got hit with negative media coverage after a customer reported that prices for flights out of Florida had surged dramatically. The company has since stated that heightened demand drove up automated pricing on a third-party site. "Delta has been examining and adjusting fares in Florida since early this week, when Irma's path became apparent and demand to fly out of the area surged," the company said in a statement.
The price caps hardly come into play for people who either can't book a flight or whose flights have been canceled. JetBlue hasn't lost sight of these people either. "Following updated forecasts tracking Hurricane Irma and announcements from local airport authorities, we currently have canceled 878 flights through Monday, Sept. 11," JetBlue wrote in a blog post on Sept. 7. "We are working to provide additional flights where we can and communicating directly with impacted customers. For customers with existing scheduled flights, JetBlue continues to waive cancellation fees as well as waiving change fees and differences in airfare for rebooking."
Airlines are often perceived to be villains in the best of times, and in the worst of times they are seen as price gougers. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey and in anticipation of Irma, now they can be heroes.
Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI