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On Thursday morning, Hurricane Irma is less than 72 hours away from a near-certain landfall in South Florida as a catastrophic Category 4 or 5 hurricane. After leaving a path of destruction in the Caribbean, it is expected to hit the US mainland on Sunday morning.

The danger of this powerful storm can’t be overestimated; residents and travelers in its path should take immediate action to evacuate coastal areas and find storm-proof shelter on high ground. If you’re able, use JetBlue’s $99 one-way fares or the airline change fee waivers below to change your flight to avoid the storm.

FORECAST

The National Hurricane Center is fairly certain of the trajectory for the next 48 hours: the massive storm will weave north of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba. While the two islands will be spared the worst of the impact, both will be hit by strong tropical storm-force winds and torrential downpours.

The islands of the Bahamas will not fare as well. In addition to receiving the brunt of the 175 mph winds, a catastrophic 15-20 foot storm surge is forecast to inundate the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern and central Bahamas.

145924_5day_cone_no_line_and_wind

What happens after 48 hours is the critical part for those in Florida and up the East Coast. As macro weather conditions change headed into the weekend, the storm is expected to turn northward into Florida. However, as stated in the latest National Hurricane Center forecast: “the timing of the turn is the most important question and one still filled with uncertainty.”

Ever-so-minor weakening is expected from the storm over the next 72 hours as it loses a bit of internal organization. That said, this weakening will only drop the forecast maximum sustained winds from the current exceptional 175 mph to “just” 150 mph winds — which makes it just shy of a Category 5 storm.

The incredibly destructive core of the monster storm remains compact; hurricane force winds still only extend outward 50 miles from the eye. Exactly where the core of the storm hits will make a significant difference. So, travelers and residents in the Bahamas, Cuba, Florida and northward into Georgia and the Carolinas need to keep a close watch on Irma.

WEATHER WAIVERS

Many airlines have released travel waivers allowing you to change your travel plans. If you aren’t yet there, these weather waivers will let you rebook your trip to avoid the area until the storm passes. For those in the area, flights are quickly filling up and standby lists are growing. But, you may be able to change your flights to get out ahead of the storm.

Below is a map of all the airports affected by waivers:

Hurricane Irma weather waivers Thurs 9-7-17

If you are stuck due to the storm, airlines aren’t going to be responsible for paying for your meals or hotels in the case of weather-related delays/cancellations. That’s why we recommend paying for flights with cards have flight delay/cancellation insurance that can reimburse you for weather issues, including the Citi Prestige ($500 per passenger for 3+ hour delay), the Chase Sapphire Reserve ($500 per ticket for 6+ hour or overnight delay) and Chase Sapphire Preferred ($500 per ticket for 12+ hour or overnight delay). My Citi Prestige personally came in handy a few weeks ago when I got stuck in Japan due to a typhoon-related flight cancellation.

As of this writing, here are the available travel waivers for this storm:

Alaska

  • Travel dates: September 6-12
  • Airports affected: Havana (HAV); Fort Lauderdale (FLL); Orlando (MCO); Tampa (TPA)
  • Must have bought your ticket by September 6
  • Rebook travel anytime through September 19
  • You may request a refund if you choose not to travel at all.
  • Tickets must be exchanged or refunded on or before September 12, 2017.

American Airlines

LEEWARD ISLANDS & PUERTO RICO

  • Travel dates: September 5-9
  • Airports affected: Anguilla Wallblake, Anguilla (AXA); Antigua, Antigua (ANU); Beef Island, British Virgin Islands (EIS); San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU); St. Croix Island, U.S. Virgin Islands (STX); St. Kitts, Saint Kitts and Nevis (SKB); St. Maarten, Saint Maarten (SXM); St. Thomas Island, U.S. Virgin Islands (STT); Cap-Haitien, Haiti (CAP); Port-au-Prince, Haiti (PAP); Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic (POP); Providenciales, Turks and Caicos (PLS); Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (PUJ); Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (SDQ); Santiago, Dominican Republic (STI)
  • Must have bought your ticket by September 3
  • Rebook travel anytime between September 4-12
  • You can’t change your origin or destination city. Must rebook in same cabin or pay the difference.

CUBA & BAHAMAS

  • Travel dates: September 5-12
  • CUBA Airports affected: Cienfuegos, Cuba (CFG); Camaguey, Cuba (CMW); Havana, Cuba (HAV); Holguin, Cuba (HOG); Santa Clara, Cuba (SNU); Varadero, Cuba (VRA)
  • BAHAMAS Airports affected: Exuma, Bahamas (GGT); Freeport, Bahamas (FPO); Marsh Harbour, Bahamas (MHH); Nassau, Bahamas (NAS); North Eleuthera, Bahamas (ELH); San Salvador, Bahamas (ZSA)
  • Must have bought your ticket by September 5
  • Rebook travel anytime between September 5-15
  • You can’t change your origin or destination city. Must rebook in same cabin or pay the difference.

FLORIDA

  • Travel dates: September 5-17 [dates extended]
  • Airports affected: Daytona Beach, Florida (DAB); Destin / Fort Walton Beach, Florida (VPS); Fort Lauderdale, Florida (FLL); Fort Myers, Florida (RSW); Gainesville, Florida (GNV); Jacksonville, Florida (JAX); Key West, Florida (EYW); Melbourne, Florida (MLB); Miami, Florida (MIA); Orlando, FL (MCO); Palm Beach, Florida (PBI); Pensacola, Florida (PNS); Tallahassee, Florida (TLH); Tampa, Florida (TPA); Sarasota, Florida (SRQ)
  • Must have bought your ticket by September 5
  • Rebook travel anytime between September 5-30 [dates extended]
  • You can change your origin or destination city within 300 miles. Must rebook in same cabin or pay the difference.

GEORGIA & SOUTH CAROLINA

  • Travel dates: September 6-17
  • Airports affected: Charleston, South Carolina (CHS); Hilton Head, South Carolina (HHH); Savannah, Georgia (SAV)
  • Must have bought your ticket by September 6
  • Rebook travel anytime between September 6-30
  • You can change your origin or destination city within 300 miles. Must rebook in same cabin or pay the difference.

Delta

  • Travel dates: September 5-9
  • Airports affected: Punta Cana, DO (PUJ); San Juan, PR (SJU); Santiago, DO (STI); St. Croix, VI (STX); St. Maarten, SX (SXM); St. Thomas, VI (STT); Turk Caicos ISLS, TC (PLS)
  • Rebooked travel must begin no later than: September 12
  • When rescheduled travel occurs beyond September 12, the change fee will be waived. However, a difference in fare may apply. Final travel must be completed by end of ticket validity, one year from date of original issue.
  • If travel cannot be rescheduled within these guidelines, customers may cancel their reservation and apply any unused value of the ticket toward the purchase of a new ticket for a period of one year from the original ticket issuance.
  • Travel dates: September 6-17 [dates extended]
  • Airports affected: Daytona Beach, FL (DAB); Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood, FL (FLL); Fort Myers, FL (RSW); Fort Walton Beach, FL (VPS); Freeport, BS (FPO); Gainesville, FL (GNV); Georgetown, BS (GGT); Havana, CU (HAV); Jacksonville, FL (JAX); Key West, FL (EYW); Marsh Harbour, BS (MHH); Melbourne, FL (MLB); Miami, FL (MIA); Nassau, BS (NAS); Orlando, FL (MCO); Panama City, FL (ECP); Pensacola, FL (PNS); Sarasota/Bradenton, FL (SRQ); Tallahassee, FL (TLH); Tampa/St. Pete/Clearwater, FL (TPA); West Palm Beach, FL (PBI)
  • Rebooked travel must begin no later than: September 30 [dates extended]
  • When rescheduled travel occurs beyond September 30, the change fee will be waived. However, a difference in fare may apply. Final travel must be completed by end of ticket validity, one year from date of original issue.
  • If travel cannot be rescheduled within these guidelines, customers may cancel their reservation and apply any unused value of the ticket toward the purchase of a new ticket for a period of one year from the original ticket issuance.

Frontier

  • Travel dates: September 5-12
  • Airports affected: Fort Lauderdale, FL (FLL); Orlando, FL (MCO); Miami, FL (MIA); Fort Myers, FL (RSW); Tampa, FL (TPA); San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU); Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (PUJ)
  • Must have bought your ticket by September 4
  • Rebooked travel must begin no later than: October 15
  • Origin and destination cities may be changed.
  • One change available. Rules/restrictions regarding standard change fees, advance purchase, day or time applications, blackouts, and minimum or maximum stay requirements will be waived.

JetBlue

Eastern Caribbean

  • Travel dates: September 5-7
  • Airports affected: Aguadilla, Puerto Rico (BQN); Antigua (ANU); Ponce, Puerto Rico (PSE); San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU); St. Croix (STX); St. Maarten (SXM); St. Thomas (STT)
  • Must have bought your ticket by September 4
  • Rebook travel anytime through September 11
  • To rebook travel or request a refund online, click here. If you are already checked in for your flight, call [JetBlue] at 1-800-JETBLUE (538-2583) for assistance with rebooking or a credit.

Western Caribbean

  • Travel dates: September 6-8
  • Airports affected: Puerto Plata, DR (POP); Punta Cana, DR (PUJ); Santo Domingo, DR (SDQ); Santiago, DR (STI); Havana, Cuba (HAV); Santa Clara, Cuba (SNU); Camaguey, Cuba (CMW); Holguin, Cuba (HOG); Providenciales, Turks & Caicos (PLS); Nassau, Bahamas (NAS)
  • Must have bought your ticket by September 5
  • Rebook travel anytime through September 11
  • To rebook travel or request a refund online, click here. If you are already checked in for your flight, call [JetBlue] at 1-800-JETBLUE (538-2583) for assistance with rebooking or a credit.

Florida

  • Travel dates: September 6-11 [dates extended]
  • Airports affected: Daytona Beach, FL (DAB); Fort Lauderdale, FL (FLL); Jacksonville, FL (JAX); Fort Myers, FL (RSW); Orlando, FL (MCO); Sarasota, FL (SRQ); Tampa, FL (TPA); West Palm Beach, FL (PBI)
  • Must have bought your ticket by September 5
  • Rebook travel anytime through September 19 [dates extended]
  • To rebook travel or request a refund online, click here. If you are already checked in for your flight, call [JetBlue] at 1-800-JETBLUE (538-2583) for assistance with rebooking or a credit.

Southeast Region

  • Travel dates: September 10-11
  • Airports affected: Charleston, SC (CHS) and Savannah, GA (SAV)
  • Must have bought your ticket by September 6
  • Rebook travel anytime through September 14
  • To rebook travel or request a refund online, click here. If you are already checked in for your flight, call [JetBlue] at 1-800-JETBLUE (538-2583) for assistance with rebooking or a credit.

Southwest

  • Travel dates: September 5-17 [dates extended]
  • Airports affected: Fort Lauderdale (FLL); Fort Myers (RSW); Havana (HAV); Jacksonville (JAX); Nassau (NAS); Orlando (MCO); Punta Cana (PUJ); San Juan (SJU); Tampa (TPA); West Palm Beach (PBI)
  • Customers who are holding reservations for flights departing during these dates, and want to alter their travel plans may rebook in the original class of service or travel standby (within 14 days of their original date of travel between the original city-pairs and in accordance with Southwest’s accommodation procedures) without paying any additional charge.

Spirit Airlines

  • Travel dates: September 6-11
  • Airports affected: Fort Lauderdale, FL (FLL); Fort Myers (RSW); Orlando, FL (MCO); Tampa, FL (TPA)
  • Modification charge/fare difference waived through: September 16
  • Customers can make changes to their reservations by going to the Manage Travel page or calling Spirit at 801-401-2222.
  • Travel dates: September 5-7
  • Airports affected: Aguadilla, PR (BQN); San Juan, PR (SJU); St. Thomas, USVI (STT)
  • Modification charge/fare difference waived through: September 11
  • Customers can make changes to their reservations by going to the Manage Travel page or calling Spirit at 801-401-2222.
  • Travel dates: September 7-8
  • Airports affected: Port-au-Prince, HT (PAP); Santiago, DR (STI); Santo Domingo, DR (SDQ)
  • Modification charge/fare difference waived through: September 12
  • Customers can make changes to their reservations by going to the Manage Travel page or calling Spirit at 801-401-2222.

United

Puerto Rico

  • Travel dates: September 5-7
  • Airports affected: Aguadilla, PR, US (BQN) and San Juan, PR, US (SJU)
  • ​​​​​​The change fee and any difference in fare will be waived for new United flights departing on or before September 11, as long as travel is rescheduled in the originally ticketed cabin (any fare class) and between the same cities as originally ticketed.​​

Bahamas, Cuba, and Dominican Republic

  • Travel dates: September 5-9
  • Airports affected: Havana, CU (HAV); Nassau, BS (NAS); Providenciales, TC (PLS); Puerto Plata, DO (POP); Punta Cana, DO (PUJ); Santiago, DO (STI); Santo Domingo, DO (SDQ)
  • ​​​​​​The change fee and any difference in fare will be waived for new United flights departing on or before September 12, as long as travel is rescheduled in the originally ticketed cabin (any fare class) and between the same cities as originally ticketed.​​

Florida

  • Travel dates: September 5-17 [dates extended]
  • Airports affected: Destin/Ft. Walton Beach, FL (VPS); Ft. Lauderdale, FL (FLL); Ft. Myers, FL (RSW); Jacksonville, FL (JAX); Miami, FL (MIA); Orlando, FL (MCO); Panama City, FL (ECP); Pensacola, FL (PNS); Tampa, FL (TPA); West Palm Beach, FL (PBI)
  • ​​​​​​The change fee and any difference in fare will be waived for new United flights departing on or before September 30, as long as travel is rescheduled in the originally ticketed cabin (any fare class) and between the same cities as originally ticketed.​​

International Airlines

Featured image by Joe Raedle / Getty Images.

Story updated for the 11am National Hurricane Center updated forecast.

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