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Airline passengers face extraordinarily high ticket prices amid flight cancellations

Despite price caps, some airfares have climbed to four digits during this week's travel nightmares.

As this week's flight cancellation wave led by Southwest Airlines drags on, other major carriers have announced they will institute price caps — particularly in cities where Southwest operates — to limit the financial burden on stranded flyers trying to reach their destinations.

Among them are American, United and Delta, all of which said they would limit fares in all markets where Southwest operates through Monday.

But despite the announcements, airfare data shows that prices to and from many affected destinations remain sky high.

Google flight information shows prices for one-way trips out of airports like Nashville International, Ronald Reagan Washington International and Chicago Midway International — all Southwest hubs — surging over the next few days.

For instance, a one-way ticket leaving Friday from Nashville, Tennessee, to Denver International Airport — two hubs heavily affected by this week's flight cancellations — started at more than $600.

A one-way flight from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles International Airport leaving Friday started at more than $1,000.

Image: Southwest Airlines' Mass Cancellations Continue To Strand Travellers Nationwide
Travelers wait in line before passing through a security checkpoint Wednesday at Denver International Airport. Michael Ciaglo / Getty Images

Many flyers have vented their frustration on social media.

Suzanne Durham, a music industry professional based in Nashville, had spent Christmas in Boston and was scheduled to return home Monday on Southwest. After her original flight was canceled, she was able to rebook another flight on Southwest leaving later in the week, but she had a feeling that the flight would be canceled, too.

So she decided to book an additional flight on American Airlines for more than $900, she said.

"When I was booking that flight, I couldn’t believe it was so expensive," Durham said in a follow-up interview. She said American did not specify which class the ticket was in, and it turned out to be business class.

"It wasn’t even first class," Durham said. "They are absolutely price gouging, in my opinion."

Durham, who vented her frustrations Monday on Twitter, said an American Airlines representative responded by noting that "fares are up to some destinations."

An American Airlines representative pointed NBC News to a tweet buried in response to a user saying selected cities would see price caps. The representative declined to share further details.

Other flyers shared similar stories on Twitter of facing much higher fares.

Meanwhile, Southwest's chief commercial officer, Ryan Green, apologized for the travel chaos in a video Wednesday night, telling passengers that they can submit full refund requests for canceled flights and file travel expenses on the airline's website.

"My personal apology is the first step of making things right after many plans changed and experiences fell short of your expectations of us," Green said. "We’re continuing to work to make this up to you." 

A Transportation Department representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In an interview with Nexstar Media on Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg applauded airlines for instituting the price caps.

"Nobody should be taking advantage of the situation," said Buttigieg, who acknowledged that the department may have limited legal authority to substantially address the situation.

"We're really expecting airlines to go beyond the legal minimum and to do the right thing here," he said. "It shouldn't take an enforcement action from our department in order to get people taken care of or get them their money back."