Irma Likely to Affect Air Travel Across the Southeastern US Monday and Tuesday

Sep 10, 2017

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With many airports shut down across Florida, Hurricane Irma has already caused thousands of flight cancellations. FlightAware’s cancellation tracker counted 1,276 cancellations in the US on Friday and another 2,327 cancellations Saturday.

As Irma neared landfall on the southwest Florida coast shortly after 3:00pm Sunday, flight cancellations reached the 3,000 mark for the day. Five airlines have cancelled more than 40% of their schedule on Sunday: interCaribbean Airlines (87%), Spirit (44%), Allegiant Air (44%), Seaborne (44%) and JetBlue (40%).

FlightAware cancellations 1520 9-10-2017

Crazily enough, the cancellations could get much worse Monday and into Tuesday. Hurricane Irma is expected to speed up the Florida coast on Sunday evening and inland toward the world’s busiest airport by passenger traffic: Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.

What does that mean for the critical aviation hub? Brandon Cosinteno, an aviation meteorologist and owner of Weather Online Network, explains:

Irma will continue to move to the North on Monday and will be located near Columbus, Georgia by Monday Evening. That will put Atlanta in the Northeast quadrant of the storm which means the Atlanta area including the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport will see strong winds and very heavy rainfall. In fact Atlanta is under a Tropical Storm Warning for the first time ever with wind gusts up to 65-70 mph by Monday Evening and Monday Night.

By Tuesday a rapidly weakening Irma could bring some heavy rain and gusty winds to Memphis and Nashville. 

Image courtesy of Weather Online Network

At the same time, airports across Florida may still be closed to assess damage and make repairs. Naples airport (APF) has already experienced a 142 mph wind gust and Fort Myers Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) recorded a 79 mph gust. As the storm moves up the coast, the worst may be still to come for many Florida airports.

Once airport repairs are complete, there’s still the issue of missing aircraft. JetBlue doesn’t have a single plane in the state of Florida and most other airlines cleared out their aircraft from vulnerable airports ahead of the storm. So, flights can’t resume until airlines fly aircraft back into the state.

All of this is pointing to very rough travel days Monday and Tuesday. That’s the bad news. The good news is that airlines realize this and many have issued change fee waivers. These allow connecting travelers to reroute through other connecting airports, and flexible travelers to change travel dates or times. Some will even let you fly out of another airport.

My personal travel plans included an American Airlines flight from Tampa (TPA) to Chicago (ORD) on Tuesday after traveling into the Tampa area this weekend. Hurricane Irma changed those plans. Thankfully, AA’s travel waiver allows airport changes of up to 600 miles, so I was able to rebook my flight out of Atlanta (ATL), where I’m riding out the storm.

Screenshot_20170909-172049

Similarly, Southwest Airlines allowed my father to rebook a work trip out of Birmingham (BHM) Tuesday instead of out of Tampa (TPA) on Wednesday. This is allowing him to head straight to the work trip from his evacuation point in Birmingham instead of having to position back to Tampa to fly out. This process was free, quick and easy on Southwest’s website:

SW change notice on reservation

These are just two examples of airlines allowing common sense changes. However, you can get a lot more creative. Taken to the extreme, say you booked a cheap midweek United flight starting at or connecting through an impacted airport on September 27. Even if there are no operational impacts to the Atlanta airport, by using United’s current waiver, you can change your flights to Friday or Saturday (September 29-30) and save a couple of days of vacation. Or, you can fly out the weekend prior and maximize your trip.

Back in January, TPG’s Editor-at-Large Zach Honig used a weather waiver to book an impressive routing, before having to change the flight back due to a scheduling conflict.

With some of these options in mind, check your flight schedule and compare it to the following weather waivers.

Travel Waivers

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

Weather waiver airports 9-10-2017

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

Alaska

  • Travel dates: September 6-16 [dates extended]
  • Airports affected: Havana (HAV); Fort Lauderdale (FLL); Orlando (MCO); Tampa (TPA)
  • Must have bought your ticket by September 6
  • Rebook travel anytime through September 23 [dates extended]
  • You may request a refund if you choose not to travel at all.
  • Tickets must be exchanged or refunded on or before September 16, 2017.

American Airlines

See website for waivers for Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Bahamas

FLORIDA

  • Travel dates: September 5-17
  • 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
  • You can change your origin or destination city within 600 miles. Must rebook in same cabin or pay the difference.

GEORGIA & SOUTH CAROLINA COAST

  • Travel dates: September 6-17
  • Airports affected: Charleston, South Carolina (CHS); Hilton Head, South Carolina (HHH); Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (MYR); 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 600 miles. Must rebook in same cabin or pay the difference.

INLAND

  • Travel dates: September 10-12
  • Airports affected: Asheville, North Carolina (AVL); Atlanta, Georgia (ATL); Augusta, Georgia (AGS); Birmingham, Alabama (BHM); Greenville / Spartanburg, South Carolina (GSP); Huntsville, Alabama (HSV); Montgomery, Alabama (MGM)
  • Must have bought your ticket by September 8
  • Rebook travel anytime between September 8-14
  • Cannot change origin or destination. Must rebook in same cabin or pay the difference.

Delta

  • Travel dates: September 6-17
  • Airports affected: Albany, GA (ABY); Atlanta, GA (ATL); Augusta, GA (AGS); Birmingham, AL (BHM); Brunswick, GA (BQK); Charleston, SC (CHS); Columbus, GA (CSG); Daytona Beach, FL (DAB); Dothan, AL (DHN); 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); Huntsville, AL (HSV); Jacksonville, FL (JAX); Key West, FL (EYW); Marsh Harbour, BS (MHH); Melbourne, FL (MLB); Miami, FL (MIA); Mobile, AL (MOB); Montgomery, AL (MGM); Nassau, BS (NAS); Orlando, FL (MCO); Panama City, FL (ECP); Pensacola, FL (PNS); Punta Cana, DO (PUJ); Sarasota/Bradenton, FL (SRQ); Savannah, GA (SAV); San Juan, PR (SJU); Santiago, DO (STI); St. Croix, VI (STX); Tallahassee, FL (TLH); Tampa/St. Pete/Clearwater, FL (TPA); Valdosta, GA (VLD); West Palm Beach, FL (PBI)
  • Rebooked travel must begin no later than: September 30
  • 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 5-13
  • Airports affected: Atlanta, GA (ATL); 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 be completed by: October 15
  • 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.
  • Origin and destination cities may be changed.

JetBlue

See website for Caribbean waivers

Southeast Region

  • Travel dates: September 6-17
  • Airports affected: Atlanta, GA (ATL); Charleston, SC (CHS); Daytona Beach, FL (DAB); Fort Lauderdale, FL (FLL); Fort Myers, FL (RSW); Jacksonville, FL (JAX); Orlando, FL (MCO); Sarasota, FL (SRQ); Savannah, GA (SAV); Tampa, FL (TPA); West Palm Beach, FL (PBI)
  • Must have bought your ticket by September 5
  • Rebook travel anytime through September 27
  • 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: through September 17
  • Airports affected: Atlanta (ATL); Birmingham (BHM); Charleston (CHS); Fort Lauderdale (FLL); Fort Myers (RSW); Havana (HAV); Jacksonville (JAX); Nassau (NAS); Orlando (MCO); Panama City Beach (ECP); Pensacola (PNS); 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.
  • Airport changes are being allowed and you’re allowed to make changes easily on the Southwest website

Spirit Airlines

See website for Caribbean waivers.

  • Travel dates: September 6-13
  • Airports affected: Fort Lauderdale, FL (FLL); Fort Myers (RSW); Orlando, FL (MCO); Tampa, FL (TPA)
  • Modification charge/fare difference waived through: September 27
  • Customers can make changes to their reservations by going to the Manage Travel page or calling Spirit at 801-401-2222.
  • Travel dates: September 7-12
  • Airports affected: Myrtle Beach, SC (MYR)
  • Modification charge/fare difference waived through: September 19
  • Customers can make changes to their reservations by going to the Manage Travel page or calling Spirit at 801-401-2222.
  • Travel dates: September 9-12
  • Airports affected: Atlanta (ATL)
  • Modification charge/fare difference waived through: September 19
  • Customers can make changes to their reservations by going to the Manage Travel page or calling Spirit at 801-401-2222.

United

See website for Leeward Islands, Bahamas, Cuba, Dominican Republic waivers.

Florida

  • Travel dates: September 5-30
  • Airports affected: Ft. Lauderdale, FL (FLL); Ft. Myers, FL (RSW); Ft. Walton Beach, FL (VPS); 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 November 15, as long as travel is rescheduled in the originally ticketed cabin (any fare class) and between the same cities as originally ticketed.​​

Southeast United States

  • Travel dates: September 5-17
  • Airports affected: Asheville, NC (AVL); Atlanta, GA (ATL); Birmingham, AL (BHM); Charleston, SC (CHS); Chattanooga, TN (CHA); Columbia, SC (CAE); Greenville-Spartanburg, SC (GSP); Huntsville, AL (HSV); Knoxville, TN (TYS); Savannah, GA (SAV)
  • ​​​​​​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.​​

If you traveling to or from any of the following airports through September 12, United is waiving the fee for your first and second checked bag: Aguadilla, PR, US (BQN); Destin/Ft. Walton Beach, FL (VPS); Ft. Lauderdale, FL (FLL); Ft. Myers, FL (RSW); Havana, CU (HAV); Jacksonville, FL (JAX); Miami, FL (MIA); Nassau, BS (NAS); Orlando, FL (MCO); Panama City, FL (ECP); Pensacola, FL (PNS); Providenciales, TC (PLS); Puerto Plata, DO (POP); Punta Cana, DO (PUJ); San Juan, PR, US (SJU); Santiago, DO (STI); Santo Domingo, DO (SDQ); Tampa, FL (TPA); West Palm Beach, FL (PBI)

International Airlines

Remember, if you’re 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 that have flight delay/cancellation insurance that can reimburse you for weather issues. Top options include the Citi Prestige ($500 per passenger for 3+ hour delay), the Chase Sapphire Reserve ($500 per ticket for 6+ hour or overnight delay) and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card ($500 per ticket for 12+ hour or overnight delay). My Citi Prestige came in handy a few weeks ago when I got stuck in Japan due to a typhoon-related flight cancellation.

Featured image by NOAA-NASA GOES Project via Getty Images.

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