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Saipan residents file price-gouging complaint against United



By Pacific Island Times News Staff


Saipan residents have lodged a complaint with federal and local agencies against United Airlines, challenging the high airfare rates it sets for CNMI travelers.

 

The petitioners led by Glen Hunter are seeking an investigation into United’s “monopolistic practices, excessive fare increases and price gouging.”

 

“Private U.S. citizens and residents of the CNMI, have been directly affected by these practices, which we believe are exploitative and unjust,” said Hunter, the governor’s special assistant for Broadband Policy & Development.


The complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Justice, the Department of Transportation’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,  and the CNMI Office of the Attorney General.


He filed the complaint as a private citizen.

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 United has monopolized the air service market in the CNMI and Guam for years.

 

Previously, Hunter noted, the roundtrip fare for a 120-mile, 25-minute flight on a Boeing 737 aircraft was $274.

 

“However, in December 2022, a few months following the cessation of pandemic-related restrictions, the fare was abruptly increased to $580 without adequate notice, explanation or justification,” he said.

 

A price check online showed that a roundtrip ticket between Honolulu and Los Angeles, with a distance of 2,560 miles, costs between $249 and $273.



 The CNMI-Guam price is not only disproportionate to the distance traveled but also stands as one of the highest-priced routes per mile operated by United, Hunter added.

 

When asked about the airfare anomalies, Hunter said, United provides unsatisfactory and generic responses: “I’m sorry you're disappointed with our ticket prices. I understand your perspective and would like to share some insight on our pricing. We consider historical sales data, available inventory, local events and even our competitor's pricing to determine our own fares. These factors are monitored daily so we can remain competitive and make any adjustments if needed. Prices can fluctuate and are offered in real-time availability.”

 

Hunter said United's explanation and the rationale behind "such an extreme fare increase remains unclear, especially considering the route's short distance and the lack of concrete evidence pointing to increased operating costs that would justify such a hike."

 

“We urge your agency to investigate these practices, considering both the monopolistic position of the airline on this route and the impact of such fare increases on consumers,” the complaint reads.

 

“Additionally, we seek guidance on any further steps we can take to address this issue at a regulatory or legal level to ensure fair pricing and competition in air travel for the residents of the CNMI.




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