Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

Can you imagine airline executives sitting in some comfortable lair, sipping on a fine malt and muttering excitedly into the air: "Hey, a hurricane is coming! We can make money out of this!"?

You can?

That's the problem, isn't it?

It's believable.

And so it has transpired, as thousands of people try to flee Florida to get away from Hurricane Irma, some passengers have blown fury at airlines.

Here's flyer Leigh Dow accusing Delta: "Shame on you @delta. Jacking from $547 to over $3200 for people trying to evacuate responsibly? #IrmaHurricane."

But surely someone's going to accuse the industry's current bête-noir, United, aren't they?

Here you are, from the New Pornographers' Carl Newman: "Jet Blue caps flights out of Florida at $99. United charging $6000."

Newman wasn't alone in suggesting that United wasn't playing fair.

But Miami is something of a hub for American. Are digital fingers pointing at it too?

Well, yes. Here's John Lyons on Facebook: "Very bad job by American Airlines. Booked a one-way ticket last night for my daughter to come home this Thursday night using this exact itinerary. Paid $160.00. Now with hurricane warnings in effect, American is gouging for the same ticket to the tune of over $1000 per person and close friends daughter who cannot afford is stranded.​"

I contacted each airline to wonder what they had to say.

American told me that it had not changed its pricing structure and that it had actually added flights from the affected areas as much as it was able.

"While there are limited seats remaining before the storm hits, we will cap our pre-tax fares at $99 for Main Cabin seats on direct, single leg flights out of Florida for tickets sold through Sunday September 10 for travel until September 13," a spokesperson told me.

As for United, it insisted that there had been a glitch in its system, as it didn't normally fly its larger planes on domestic flights, so the computers got a little confused and accidentally showed First Class fares, a confusion that has now been fixed.

"United did not change how we priced our seats for flights out of Florida, and we will be offering additional flights out of Florida today and tomorrow to help more customers in those affected areas," an airline spokesman told me. "For those flights we have added, we have taken steps to reduce those fares beyond what a regular last minute fare would be."

Delta told me that as soon as its meteorologists had determined that the hurricane would be an issue, it instituted a waiver.

On Wednesday at 4.30 p.m., the airline's website announced that fares were capped at $399.

Referring to Dow's accusation, Delta also told BuzzFeed News that Expedia was at fault, not the airline. For her part, Dow says Delta solved her issue to her satisfaction.

But here's the real problem. It didn't have to come to this.

Once these airlines knew a hurricane was coming, they could have immediately and proactively offered special low fares as a gesture to those who needed to flee.

Yes, they might have lost a little money.

But it would have been the perfect emotional surprise offered by brands that aren't too far above the distaste level of Martin Shkreli.

The airlines know they are targets. Accusations such as the ones made on this occasion are likely just because of the general view of airlines and how they appear to operate.

Making gestures far in advance would have been an excellent ad campaign for the airlines, while helping customers enormously in extremely stressful times.

Sometimes, it just takes a simple, thoughtful approach for people to think differently of you.

JetBlue, for example, which oddly didn't seem to be the object of any complaints I could find, automatically reduced its fares to $99. Other airlines then reacted by offering their own fare ideas.

This doesn't mean that any of the big airlines were necessarily price gouging. Far more likely is that the planes filled up, so the prices went up.

But no one seems to have stopped to proactively consider what the right thing to do might be in these special circumstances.

That's what happens when vast systems and rules dictate.

Thinking about your customers as humans, rather than profit centers, can go a long way.

Published on: Sep 6, 2017