Airlines Accused Of Taking Advantage Of Stranded Passengers

US travelers who are stranded abroad are accusing airlines of taking advantage of their situation. Some are reporting prices for one way tickets back to the US in excess of $2,000, on routes that would normally be just a few hundred dollars. Airlines have hit back, saying prices reflect the cost of operating these flights, particularly when one way is flown empty.

Airlines Accused Of Taking Advantage Of Stranded Passengers
Passengers are unhappy with high prices for US repatriation. Photo: American Airlines

Price gouging

US travelers who are stranded overseas are not happy with the prices on offer by airlines. The Hill reports today that some are accusing carriers of ‘price gouging’, grossly overcharging for repatriation flights for desperate travelers to get home.

One passenger, Deepti Singh Suri, is trying to get home to the Chicago area from her current location in India. She already held a return flight ticket, but that service has been canceled. She is yet to receive a refund from her original airline, which she didn’t name, and has had to sign a promissory note to the State Department for her seat on a flight to get back to the US.

The amount of the promissory? $1,900. This, she says, is on top of the expenses she’s incurred for accommodation and the loss from the original ticket booking. She believes she’s out of pocket by at least $3,000, and that’s just for one person. You can imagine the expenses involved if a whole family is stranded abroad.

US carriers to receive payroll bailout
Thousands of passengers are still thought to be stranded overseas. Photo: Getty Images

Some travelers are asking the State Department to waive the airfares, but the departments are increasingly putting repatriation flights in the hands of the airlines. Airlines argue that these fares reflect the cost of their operations, due to flights being specially chartered and often flying one way with no passengers.

More than 2,200 people have signed an online petition asking the US government to relax the conditions of the fees. The petition states that ‘thousands and thousands’ of US citizens are stuck overseas, and calls on the government to rethink its requirement to repay the air fares. It says,

“It is expected that the repatriation cost could be upward of $2000 or more per person. Many of the citizen can’t even afford to pay during this time of crisis and wonder how our government could even be asking so much money to cover the expenses.”

Example: Repatriation from Peru

The Hill did a bit of investigating to find out just how much these repatriation flights actually cost, taking a trip from Lima in Peru back to the US as an example. Already the US has brought back more than 6,800 stranded travelers from the South American country, but now is asking the remaining people to book directly with the airline.

The airline operating these flights is the small US-based carrier Eastern Airlines. On the airline’s website, the repatriation services between Lima and Miami are shown as being priced between $2,000 and $2,500. Under normal circumstances, a one-way trip would cost around $600 – $800.

Eastern Airlines livery
Eastern Airlines is operating a repatriation flight to Lima. Photo: Eastern Airlines

An official from the airline told The Hill that its lowest fare on this route would be $1,697 plus taxes. It says that this reflects the fact that the aircraft is flying empty to Peru from the US. The airline also said it would need to absorb some of the costs of operating the flight if not all seats were filled.

While the US government has made $25bn available to help airlines weather the crisis (which they will have to pay back), it hasn’t set aside any specific budget to assist with repatriation efforts. This is in contrast to the UK government, which announced a £75m fund to drive down the cost of repatriation, but no bailout for the industry.

Have you struggled to get a repatriation flight for a reasonable price? Let us know your experience in the comments.

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