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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

For Texas and large swaths of the Caribbean, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have proven historic human catastrophes. At least 70 people were killed in the former, while the latter is presently on a collision course with Florida’s Gulf Coast after leveling Anguilla, Cuba and the Bahamas, among other island nations and commonwealths. Barbuda, which bore the brunt of the Category 5 storm Irma, has been reduced to rubble.

For a handful of corporations, the death and destruction wrought by these tempests present an opportunity to turn a tidy profit. Call it disaster capitalism in miniature. In addition, these events help illustrate just how ill-equipped private industry is to meet the demands of a public safety crisis like a natural disaster.

Here are three apparent offenders, all accused of shamelessly gouging their customers at the worst possible time.

1. Amazon

The online retailer has come under fire since it listed a 24-pack of bottled water for $99.99 via BestSource OfficeSupplies, a third party vendor. One shopper complained of a single gallon of distilled water being sold for $21.95. A spokeswoman for Amazon told CBS that the website’s prices “do not fluctuate by region or delivery location.” But the site has acknowledged that it relies on “dynamic pricing,” an algorithmic model that incorporates what other merchants are charging, and tweaks its pages accordingly. During a natural disaster, when essentials like food, water and batteries are in short supply, this looks an awful lot like gouging.

2. Delta

With Hurricane Irma bearing down on virtually the entire state of Florida, and Governor Rick Scott urging residents in areas susceptible to storm surges to evacuate (after years of climate denialism), traffic has spiked on travel sites like Expedia and Kayak by prospective passengers hoping to make their escape. Enter Delta, which has reportedly been charging four, five and six times the normal cost of a flight out of Miami.

Leigh Dow, a public relations executive with just under 19,000 Twitter followers, went viral earlier this week when she tweeted that the price of her ticket to Phoenix had been bumped from $547.50 to $3,258.50. Snopes is careful to notethat Delta ultimately helped her find more affordable airfare, and the airline announced Friday it would be capping one-way reservations to and from South Florida at $399, but it remains unclear if it was simply bowing to public pressure.

3. Chevron

Reuters reports that as of Thursday, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi had received 45 separate complaints of inflated prices at Chevron gas stations, despite the oil company’s repeated claim that it will not tolerate price gouging. According to AAA, gas prices across the state have spiked to $2.725 per gallon, as thousands of motorists flee coastal areas before Irma makes landfall. Shortages have been especially acute in Southern Florida, one of the regions most vulnerable to the storm.


Jacob Sugarman is a managing editor at AlterNet.

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11 responses to “3 Big Corporations Accused Of Shamelessly Gouging Their Customers This Hurricane Season”

  1. earlrichards says:

    To avoid the Big Oil gasoline price rip-off, plug your Tesla Model E, electric car into your household, solar array.

  2. FireBaron says:

    And the Florida AG’s office called out a number of companies for gouging, including 7-11 for gasoline.

    • dbtheonly says:

      But FB, $2.72/gal. is only a nickel more than I’m paying. If that’s the “gouging” price, I’d like to be in line for the standard price.

      Equally the article cites Amazon but explains that the prices were set automatically.

      It strikes me that the story is more “click bait” than we’re used to here.

      Whatja think?

      • Beethoven says:

        I think the complaint against Amazon is really unfair. If you can buy a 24-pack of water directly from Amazon for $3.99, as one commenter said, yet Amazon is advertising a ridiculously high price set by another seller, Amazon is not the one engaged in price gouging.

        • dbtheonly says:

          I’ve been puzzled by sellers on Amazon who ask $1500 for items readily available for $200.

          Then I came to Tao with the idea that an owner of an item can set any price he chooses for it. It is up to the consumer to agree to that price or not.

          Disasters do tend to reveal the inner man, for good or ill.

      • MJ Hoop says:

        Exactly my thought when first i read of the gas price. In such a situation with a good deal of issues in Houston, I;d expect gas prices to be even higher, And now Florida et al hit, even more problems delivering gas supplies. It’s a wonder prices are not $3+. That’s what I think.

  3. Richard Prescott says:

    And don’t forget the gouging by Exxon in the Houston area jacking the gas up to $8.66 per gallon. It hasn’t just been in Florida.

  4. 788eddie says:

    Why am I not surprised at this?

    And I wonder, just how many of the upper management of these companies will be fined or do jail time for their transgressions?

  5. rhetoric_phobic says:

    How many people in the hurricane zone are ordering from Amazon? Third party sellers dictate their own prices. You can get a 24 pk through Amazon Fresh right now for $3.99 but prices listed under Other Sellers vary from more to ridiculous.
    Who can deliver?

  6. Lynda Groom says:

    We stopped buying gas from Chevron years ago. We have about 10 service stations in town and Chevron is always the highest followed a few pennies less by Shell. Often the difference is over twenty cents per gallon. Why anyone goes there is beyond me.

  7. stcroixcarp says:

    Ahh Capitalism! No matter how bitter the storm, how sweet the profits.

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