Travelers who want to navigate between major East Coast cities this weekend will need to prepare for sticker shock.
The prices on round-trip airline tickets between major cities such as New York City and Washington, D.C. have skyrocketed in the wake of the deadly Amtrak derailment, which has closed a major stretch of rail line and disrupted travel in one of the busiest stretches in America.
Airfares are in continuous flux, given that computers often set pricing based on demand, dates, and how far in advance a traveler buys, noted George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog.com. But the prices available on Friday for travel between New York City and Washington, D.C. this weekend are unusually high, with Hobica noting that a typical round-trip fare would cost about $500. Some trips on that route are now selling for more than twice that amount.
"It's supply-and-demand capitalism," said Hobica, who added that some flights this weekend only have one or two seats left. "For the last seat available, sometimes they charge whatever they think they can get. The airlines claim they have not raised fares, and that could be true in that there might be 20 different fare classes and perhaps the last seats on the most desirable flights are priced at an astronomical price."
Still, his advice to the airlines would be to adjust fares lower, in order to avoid the perception of price-gouging in the wake of a disaster that has claimed eight lives and injured scores of others.
One ticket on Thursday for a Delta shuttle flight to Washington DC from La Guardia Airport in New York was selling for $2,309, according to The New York Times. A Delta spokesman told The Times that the airline hadn't increased fares between East Coast cities.
The higher prices will likely be absorbed by business travelers, who largely fill the seats on flights between New York and Washington, Hobica noted. Because corporate travel departments have policies to cover the going rate for economy class fares, business travelers will likely still buy those higher-priced tickets. Tourists and non-business travelers may have a tougher time of swallowing the prices, however.
Other travel options are also dealing with scarcity issues. A midday check of the NYC-Washington, D.C. route on the travel site GoToBus.com found that the remaining trips for Friday were already sold out. Some routes were still available on Saturday, however.
Heightened demand for flights and bus trips might continue even after the rail line is placed back in service, which is expected next week, because of lingering concerns about train safety, Hobica noted.
He added, "There will be a spillover effect where people won't take the train because they don't trust it."