Just a week after the devastating storms and floods of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, the U.S. and parts of the Caribbean are already in the throes of another hurricane catastrophe. Hurricane Irma, which strengthened to a Category 5 storm (the strongest type of hurricane), has already impacted popular destinations like Puerto Rico, Anguilla, St. Kitts and Nevis, Barbuda, the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Barts, and St. Martin. At its peak, Irma sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, and according to officials, the storm has already destroyed about 90 percent of structures and vehicles on Barbuda, ABC News reports.
The storm, the second-strongest ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, is also projected to rip through the Bahamas and, by the weekend, Florida and the southeast U.S., The Washington Post reports. Parts of northern Florida as well as up into Georgia and the Carolinas should be prepared for potentially hazardous conditions early next week. After approaching the area just south of Miami as a Category 4 hurricane, Irma is expected to weaken to a Category 3 hurricane, and then move up the Florida coast, ABC News reports. As you can imagine, this powerful event has led to flight and cruise ship cancellations. Here’s what you need to know about how the storm might affect your travel plans.
For the latest information, check the NOAA website.
Airlines like American, Delta, Spirit, JetBlue, Southwest, and United are among the carriers waiving fees for those who wish to reschedule trips that fall within the path of Hurricane Irma.
For example, American Airlines passengers scheduled to travel to parts of the Caribbean and Florida through September 12 (and who purchased flights before September 5) can rebook their fare without an additional charge. Similarly, JetBlue customers who have booked a trip to the Caribbean and Florida can change their flights without fees or fare increases. Original travel must have been booked by September 4 or 5, depending on the region, and rebooked flights must travel by September 11 or 12. Southwest passengers flying to particular destinations in the Caribbean and Florida from September 5 through 13 may also rebook in the same class or travel standby (within 14 days of their original travel date) without paying any additional fee.
JetBlue is also capping one-way direct flights out of Florida through September 13 at $99. In addition to airports in Florida, these fares apply to Charleston International Airport and Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, plus select airports in Haiti, Turks and Caicos, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and the Bahamas, according to Business Insider. American Airlines has also capped the price of main cabin seats on one-way flights departing from Florida at $99, while Delta announced that it won’t charge more than $399 for tickets on all flights to and from southern Florida and the Caribbean, CNN reports.
For up-to-date travel alerts and information, visit your airline’s website.
Cruise lines, including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Disney Cruise Line, and Norwegian Cruise Line, have cancelled upcoming sailings out of Florida or altered their itineraries.
What You Can Do
If you’re traveling during hurricane season, meteorologist Jason Meyers recommends monitoring the forecast ahead of your journey as well as during your trip. The National Hurricane Center provides an easy-to-navigate map that displays the hot spots that are on meteorologists’ radars. Weather apps like Storm Shield, which is capable of saving multiple locations, can also come in handy. The app will send weather alerts, like hurricane watches and warnings, for any of your saved locations (i.e. your home and destination). Local forecast offices are another great resource for specific predictions on specific days. Once you arrive in your destination, continue to watch the weather, and listen to authorities if evacuation orders are given.
It’s also important to be aware of the cancellation policies for your airline and hotel. Take it one step further and inquire about your hotel’s hurricane emergency plans and procedures. Research the destination, too. Find out if it’s an area that experiences severe flooding during storms, if there are any obvious evacuation routes, and the closest hospital in case of an emergency. “You should cancel a trip if it looks like a tropical storm or hurricane is moving toward your destination,” says Meyers. “If you’re already there and a storm is expected, listen to authorities’ instructions and understand that it may be time to cut your vacation short.” It’s worth noting that once a storm is named, it’s no longer possible to purchase travel insurance to protect against any losses from that event.
And of course, have a contingency plan. “When the hurricane warning is issued, that’s when people need to decide if they should hunker down, put up shutters, and stay in place, or prepare their homes and evacuate if the local authorities say you need to get out,” says Chris Landsea, Science and Operations Officer at the National Hurricane Center.