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This was actually from a personal experience and I was wondering if airlines would react to such an event.

Let's say a relative has died in Poland and I'm in the United Kingdom. I would have to attend the funeral taking place in Poland. This may seem absurd, but would airlines react and perhaps increase the price of the aeroplane tickets, knowing that I will buy the ticket anyway?

marked as duplicate by Kate Gregory, Newton, David Richerby, Giorgio, gmauch Nov 3 '18 at 2:36

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migrated from aviation.stackexchange.com Oct 29 '18 at 15:37

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  • 3
    Have a look at recent flight ticket prices to Pittsburgh, PA; lots of folks are going there last minute for upcoming funeral purposes. – WBT Oct 30 '18 at 0:11
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    A note on flying for funerals specifically - many airlines actually provide some discount if you must fly for a funeral. (Not getting in to the many Terms & Conditions that apply...) – BruceWayne Oct 30 '18 at 15:01
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    @v.oddou Your first sentence is utter nonsense and is unfounded if we are talking about established and reputable airlines. The only way which I can imagine that the "stars aligned" for a $12,000 ticket is if the destination is unpopular, the availability is scarce, the date or day of week is busy, and your wife yelled at them for 3 hours after they first quoted $9,000 which someone else bought and your wife was left with the $12,000 option. – MonkeyZeus Oct 30 '18 at 19:22
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    @v.oddou Yes, I used to work for an airline and I can assure you that emergencies were not gouged. I've sold super cheap tickets directly at the counter in emergency situations because the flight wasn't even 25% full. I am not here to argue but now that you've explained it's two $6,000 tickets and not a single 12K ticket I find the price plausible but your first sentence is still nonsense. The supply and demand pricing model of airline prices is openly discussed so if you feel that your wife and child were targets of gouging then file a complaint with the FAA or equivalent. – MonkeyZeus Oct 31 '18 at 12:41
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    People often blame the airlines for price gouging when they raise the price of last-minute tickets, but it's actually a good thing since the expensive ticket price means they can afford to keep that seat open until the last minute, and if it doesn't sell, they'll make it up on the next one. Which would you rather have - a very expensive seat at the last minute, or no seat at all? If your answer is "no seat at all", then pretend that expensive seat doesn't exist and take the next available affordable seat. – Johnny Oct 31 '18 at 18:36
87

The bigger question is how would they know?

People buy plane tickets all the time for all kinds of reasons. You are not required to tell an airline why you are flying, only when and where (so they can sell you a ticket). Airlines do vary ticket prices but they generally do so proactively and less reactively. There is lots of info out there on how they set their prices like here, here, and here.

Depending on the airline, in your given situation you may even get more flexibility or a discount.

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    They would know that he's buying at the last moment. They often keep a few very expensive seats for last moment travelers who simply must fly (usually for business, not funerals). – ugoren Oct 29 '18 at 16:12
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    Note that jacking up the price to take advantage of a bereaved family would generate a fair bit of negative publicity that would not go over well. – FreeMan Oct 29 '18 at 19:26
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    From personal experience, when I had to fly to a funeral, I couldn't get a discount per se, but the airline sold me a fully flexible ticket at the price of the most restricted one. If I were to buy the fully flexible one, I'd end up paying about $500 more. Incidentally, I ended up using the flexibility, when I had to postpone the return flight for a day. – Aleks G Oct 29 '18 at 21:11
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    A diminishing number of airlines still indeed offer bereavement fares: skyscanner.com/tips-and-inspiration/bereavement-flights-guide – ZeroTheHero Oct 31 '18 at 3:41
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    @FreeMan There are Airliners out there (thinking about RyanAir for a moment) that simply don't care about negative publicity. They have public statements which are downright horrowing. – Mast Nov 1 '18 at 5:32
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You can always buy at the current price, for whatever reason. The airlines already anticipate that you have an urgent need when you book short notice, so typically the prices go up as the departure date approaches (unless the flight is super empty and they want to fill seats)

My wife had to change a flight because a close relative passing away. The airline agreed to waive the change fee but only after she presented the actual death certificate (which she happened to have).

Some airlines will give you a bit of leeway here, but the agents do get to hear a lot of sad stories from customers, most of which are entirely made up, so having some actual documentation can help the case.

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    We got a discount to fly to my uncle's funeral, but we had to show a death certificate. – WGroleau Oct 29 '18 at 16:41
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    @WGroleau: When my first wife died (Illinois, USA), I couldn't get an official death certificate until well after the funeral. How would airlines handle that? – supercat Oct 29 '18 at 21:49
  • @supercat I guess they may issue a voucher for your next flight. I said I guess – usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ Oct 29 '18 at 21:51
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    @supercat, I wondered the same thing. We had it, but it would seem to me that most funerals would be sooner than one could obtain a copy AND mail it to someone.k – WGroleau Oct 29 '18 at 23:21
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    Offtopic: Not related to air travel, but I got a "compassion rate" (that is about 30-40% off their standard rate) from a hotel close to the hospital (45+ min drive away from my place) at which my ailing father stayed, so that I could spend more time with my him. He passed away shortly, but I feel forever grateful for the offer. Good businesses do exist. – The Lyrist Oct 29 '18 at 23:45
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This could never work with the way airline tickets are currently sold, and here is why:

You rarely tell airlines who you are before you have already been offered a price and are in the middle of the booking process.

Most people search for tickets through third/fourth party travel agencies or even huge search engines that trawl all the airlines and agencies. These systems have absolutely no functionality for conveying the identity of the customer back and forth while requesting prices. And even if they in some absurd way did, the user could easily circumvent it by using incognito mode/a VPN, their computer at work, etc. So when the customer starts to book a ticket and tells the airline his/her name, he/she has already been offered and accepted a price. In fact, that price was probably one of the reasons he decided to book that particular ticket. It is too late then for the airline to change the price. The airline would have to say something like

Oh, it is you? Nevermind, the price just increased by 400 dollars.

That would be patently absurd.

Moving on, even when I book my ticket, the airline may have no idea which particular person I am. My name may be John Smith, and the airline may have thousands of other customers with that name. Giving more information (date of birth, loyalty program customer number, passport number, etc.) varies from case to case.

So, in order for this to occur, all this would have to change drastically. Airlines would have to start demanding to know the identity of the travelers before offering prices, both directly and through search engines and agents. (No airline would pioneer such a policy, as it would lose them massive amounts of business, but nevermind.) Then, they would need a complex system of surveillance. They may use the same cookie-based system that advertisers use, looking at your other web traffic and searches and trying to understand why you were interested in flying. Analyzing the social media (whatever is publicly available, anyway) of you and your social media friends may also help them. However, this AI would have to be rather complex.

As @usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ pointed out, many countries also have laws demanding equal service and pricing to all customers, and he also made a good point regarding competition.

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    It wouldn't be that hard. First, start with loyalty cards that offer exclusive price deals if you pass that loyalty card along. Then work to get the exchanges to support passing loyalty card information along with the price query, as a service to the customer. As every airline has similar incentives here, getting the search engines on-board should be possible. (Note that search engines might fight back, as they want to own your identity and treat the airlines as commodities) – Yakk Oct 30 '18 at 15:14
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    Passing loyalty card information along is relatively commonplace. But this still does not enable price hikes, only discounts. Why? Because it must always be possible to perform a query with no loyalty card (because not everyone has one), and it's trivial to compare the price with loyalty card vs. price without -- in fact airlines and search providers often have an incentive to show both prices to emphasise that you're receiving a discount or other benefit by providing your card in the first place. So airlines which hiked prices instead would be quickly discredited. – Miral Oct 31 '18 at 5:43
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I tried to do some research and I can expect two parts of the answer, one of wich was originally posted as a comment

Technically Techno-theoretically

I already stated:

With the increasing techno-control operated by over-the-tops and the power of big data such situation could be possible in the future. Airlines will recognize devices by ID or cookies and match them with individual profiles provided by tracking networks (advertising, marketing), and calculated with (not only) searches and social media posts of the individual and his network. A "need-to-buy" score might in the future be used to increase prices and/or deny discounts on individual basis, on the grounds that the customer is more likely to buy the product at any condition.

I said that there is little technical barrier preventing such. Defending your privacy on the web is an option, but it is out of the scope of the question (see also: How do I prevent cookies and apps to track my entire life?)

Now that I have space for that, the "need-to-buy" score is a theoretical score (I am trying to find the patent by Amazon for its real name) that a predictive market analysis may apply to an individual versus a product. The higher the score, the more the individual feels the need to buy that product and the more he is available to pay on grounds of the need. Soemthing opposite to the well-known concept of market demand which is made only on big figures. Flu example: flu vaccine can become more expensive in October because many people fall sick, hence more demand, not because you are demanding it.

On the downside, the above hypothetical approach does not work in a competitive market. Airlines operating on the same route compete each other. Assuming (by absurd) that they both know you have no choice than fly, they still want to compete each other on selling you a seat, hence a good reason to lower their price tag. Note that my illustration might look like the airline decides the price to apply by the time you browse their website with your browsing history in your cookies.

AI is not capable of that, to my knowledge. Marketing strategies are planned very well in advance on statistical models. As highlighted in other answers, the airline's pricing model may increase price on last-minute passengers because in the past years they found this strategy to generate good revenue. Marketers don't care about your loss.

Legally

I doubt it could be possible in Europe, but with an asterisk*

In Europe, there are severe non-discriminatory pricing rules, and Antitrust is very active on that. Non-discriminatory pricing is a broad definition. It does not limit to gender/race/etc. for individuals. It is the principle that any company that is selling utility is required to apply the same price to any individual or business customer.

So an airline selling London-Warsaw for, say, an advertised price of 200€, cannot require you, @jasonPark, to pay 400€ for the same flight because they know you are in an urge. When I say they sell it for 200€ I assume I will browse their site with a "neutral" browser in incognito mode from a network that could not be easily tracked back to you: i.e. the price I would see.

The asterisk is: I can't find information whether product discounts can be discriminatory. In general, I think they can because some companies do normally make personalized voucher codes for individuals that opted in to market researches.

This is the caveat: even if they knew (assume they know), the airline cannot overprice the ticket above the maximum fare, but may refuse to propose you a discounted price.

  • 1
    The network airlines dream of such technology. GDSes don’t even support lowercase letters. ATPCO (the airline tariff publishing company, which is one of two fare publishers globally) distributes updates to the global fare database once per hour, with a long maintenance window over the weekend. So long as your airline wants to be able to sell tickets outside their own sales channels and interline with other airlines, implementing this technology—even if they had it—is simply beyond them. The non-IATA members like Ryanair might be able to do it, if they were willing to invest in such technology. – Calchas Oct 30 '18 at 0:08
  • "[T]he airline cannot overprice the ticket above the maximum fare, but may refuse to propose you a discounted price." - One pattern I've noticed with many European service providers is that "regular" prices have increased dramatically while discounts of 30-70% are available to anyone willing to spend a minute or two googling. I wouldn't be surprised if airlines followed that trend. – Ruther Rendommeleigh Oct 30 '18 at 11:14
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Would airlines increase prices for a customer who must travel at a certain time?

Absolutely. That's the whole idea behind flying with business class being half-empty most of the time. If you don't mind the price, you can even book the ticked for later today or tomorrow for most destinations.

This pricing is not targeting you specifically, in fact, it's targeting business customers who don't care that much about the price. However, when you're in an urge for personal reasons, you start acting like a business customer (short notice, no flexibility regarding dates), so you get to pay the same price.

2

I am assuming you're buying the ticket online. In agencies criteria may vary.

Yes and no.

For the mentioned event the answer is clearly no. Like others mentioned: how would they know? Even if they knew: How would they manage that: offer you a price higher than to others? Would they raise it to everyone risking lowering their sales and final profit?

Now, if your friend is the prime minister of Poland things might be different. In general airline companies raise their prices with time and demand. If demand increases (because many people are travelling from the UK to Poland) than prices might get inflated. I gave the prime minister as an example, because it would be a big event but it could be anything else like a football match between Manchester United and KS Cracovia.

There are however events that raise prices even if there is no demand yet. A very good example is Christmas. The starting prices are usually higher around that date.

If your price is expensive that's because by nature, deaths are not announced. You probably had to buy the ticket last minute and, like mentioned before, prices tend to rise as the flight date is nearer.

1

Generally the airline doesn't know whatever reason a person buys a ticket, and just raises the last minute price for everyone

However it happened to a Vietnamese woman sometime ago that she didn't have to pay the extra fee to board the earliest flight when the airline knew that she was hurry to attend her mother's funeral.

This woman came to the airport early and asked to change her ticket to the next flight, but the airline personnel said that there's only a seat available in the business class. She'd have to pay 1.5m VND more to get that seat. Looking at her worn shoes, old clothes and haggard face due to hard labor, no one might expect that she would pay that much money. But she said yes. Being surprised by that answer, another person asked "Do you really want to fly in business class?" while she was paying the fee. She replied "Yes. What else can you do when your mother has just died?" and tried to hide her tears.

Then the personnel told her to stay there and came to discuss with his manager. After sometime he came back, return the money to the woman and told her that she can fly without paying the extra fee.

It was confirmed by Vietnam Airlines that the story is real. But unfortunately I can't find the source in English, but this was posted by a Facebooker and then appeared on every newspaper. If you want you can use an online translator to read

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