The price for a one-way ticket between the two major metropolitan areas in California, normally a cheap seat, soared to $700 as of Wednesday, and remained high through Dec. 31, amid the ongoing winter storm chaos.
Critics blamed Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg for failing to heed warnings by officials in several states about the lack of consumer protections for flight cancelations, and previous failures by Southwest Airlines, the culprit in the bulk of the holiday delays.
Southwest’s woes — blamed on outdated crew schedule software — caused days-long delays for travelers, and pushed prices on rival carriers to astonishing highs.
The San Jose Mercury News reported:
How does $800 from Chicago to San Jose sound? Need to get back to the Bay Area from Phoenix on Thursday? The cheapest ticket is $418 — but you’ll have to spend more than 4 hours waiting for a connection at Paine Field in Everett, Washington.
It doesn’t matter where you’re going or on which airline: Airfares and routes are setting a new definition for mind-blowing and nonsensical.
A last-minute traveler can usually book a flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco for under $100, and Southwest was one of the main carriers along that route. But as of Wednesday afternoon, if you needed to fly to the Bay Area from the LA area before Jan. 1, one-way tickets would cost anywhere between $350 and $700 for the cheapest options. And that’s even with some airlines, like United and American, announcing price caps to help stranded Southwest customers for many of the most-impacted routes.
On Kayak.com, the cheapest non-Southwest, nonstop one-way ticket from Los Angeles to San Francisco — including all airports within 70 miles of LAX and SFO — was $349 on Dec. 29 (Delta), $415 on Dec. 30 (Delta), and $299 on Dec. 31 (United). Slightly cheaper options were available on Breeze Airways, departing from San Bernardino, about 60 miles east of L.A.
For the reverse trip from the Bay Area to the Los Angeles area, tickets were still reasonable at $120 on Dec. 29 (Spirit), though more expensive at $209 for Dec. 30 (Alaska) and $175 on Dec. 31 (Alaska). Cheaper options in both directions were available with distant stopovers, or by bus and rail.
Those attempting to drive can expect to navigate heavy winter storms that are expected to cause flooding in some areas, and even snow at higher elevations. A storm earlier this month stranded drivers on I-5 in snow.
Buttigieg is facing unprecedented criticism, after being “AWOL” during previous crises — on unannounced paternity leave during last summer’s cargo crisis, and on vacation in Portugal during this fall’s rail crisis.