By Melissa Locker
Updated: January 21, 2017
Boris Spremo

People desperate to evacuate the wildfire-affected areas of Fort McMurray, Canada found themselves facing shockingly high plane fares—more than $4,000 CAD, according to social media posts.

In the wake of allegations of price gouging amidst a growing tragedy (officials have ordered all Fort McMurray residents to evacuate), Air Canada has gone on the defensive, claiming that they did not intentionally raise the cost of tickets.

“Contrary to allegations in social media, fares were not raised in response to this devastating situation,” Air Canada wrote in a statement on their website. “In some cases, customers booking last minute on May 3rd and 4th on flights from Fort McMurray and Edmonton have paid premium fares. This was a result of Air Canada’s computerized revenue management system, which automatically manages fares.”

The airline is now taking steps to override the “revenue management system”—which is basically an algorithm that uses principles of supply and demand, among other factors, to determine airfare—to ensure that customers fleeing the wildfires are able to find the lowest fares. The airline is also working to give partial refunds to customers who did fork over their cash for the jaw-dropping high fares. Air Canada stated that they will adjust the price to the "lowest advance fare and refund the difference." 

According to the Calgary Sun, Air Canada is also waiving baggage and pet transportation fees. The airline also noted that it has added 3,600 extra seats onto flights out of the area and it working on further measures. Furthermore, they’ve donated $50,000 to the Canadian Red Cross, but customers are still skeptical. “It’s amazing that they donated that money,” passenger Tara Topolinsky told the Calgary Herald, “But how many flights would that have paid for?”

In the wake of the evacuation, which is the largest in Alberta's history, Canada’s rail system and Westjet has been working with the oil companies to help people evacuate. Via Rail Canada is offering free tickets on trains for people affected by the forest fire and Westjet has been flying evacuees from the area.  While the Westjet flights were paid for by the oil companies, according to The Globe and Mail, the planes have carried area residents and “anybody who needed to get out of the area,” WestJet spokeswoman Lauren Stewart said. “The top priority was getting people to safety.”