Hurricane Irma Threatens Caribbean, Bahamas and Florida; Airlines Issue Waivers

Sep 5, 2017

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For the latest forecast and travel waivers, click here to see our newest post on Hurricane Irma.


Since forming seven days ago, Hurricane Irma has turned into an absolute monster. The latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center pegs the storm as a Category 5 hurricane with 180 mph top sustained winds. Irma is now one of only five storms in the history of hurricane measurements with a peak wind speed of 160 knots or higher (184 mph), according to the readings by US Air Force aircraft. The other four are Wilma from 2005, Gilbert from 1988, Allen from 1980 and the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing in the forecast that suggests Irma may weaken or turn toward the Atlantic away from land. In fact, the atmosphere in the storm’s projected track is conducive to further strengthening.

Directly in the storm’s crosshairs are the Northern Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico. Both areas have been issued hurricane warnings, indicating that hurricane-force winds are expected within 36 hours. These areas (Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Martin, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten and St. Barts, Puerto Rico, and the US and British Virgin islands) are facing catastrophic damage from winds and storm surge over the next two days. Travelers in these areas should take immediate action to evacuate or find shelter on high ground.

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Into Thursday and Friday, the storm is forecast to rocket north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti and into the Bahamas before slowing down as it approaches Cuba and Florida. Most of this time, the storm is expected to remain a massive and intense Category 5 hurricane. Small variations in the track can send Irma directly into any of the areas in the warning cone, so travelers should avoid these areas through the end of the week.

The strength of this storm simply can’t be underestimated. Carlos Anselmi, a National Weather Service meteorologist in San Juan, told The Associated Press: “Puerto Rico has not seen a hurricane of this magnitude in almost 100 years.”

In Florida, Governor Rick Scott has already declared a state of emergency even though the storm is still almost five days away. While the current forecast track takes the center of the giant storm south of Miami and into the Keys, forecasts this far out can’t be relied on to be exact. Travelers and residents up and down the Florida coast should closely monitor this storm and be prepared to evacuate or cancel plans to visit.

For now, airlines are issuing weather travel waivers primarily for the Caribbean islands. However, travelers to parts not covered by the waivers should keep a close eye out for updates to those waivers. If you’re still able to cancel flights or hotels for free, you should strongly consider doing so.

Remember, if you get 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. But some top 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:

American Airlines

  • Travel dates: September 5-8
  • 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 5-12
  • You can’t change your origin or destination city. Must rebook in same cabin or pay the difference.

Delta

  • Travel dates: September 5-9
  • Airports affected: Georgetown, BS (GGT); Havana, CU (HAV); Nassau, BS (NAS); 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.

Frontier

  • Travel dates: September 5-8
  • Airports affected: San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU) and 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.

Flight Cancellations:

  • Tuesday, September 5, 2017
    • 1658 Orlando to San Juan
    • 1040 Philadelphia to San Juan
  • Wednesday, September 6, 2017
    • 1041 San Juan to Philadelphia
    • 681 San Juan to Orlando

JetBlue

  • Travel dates: September 5-6
  • 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 9
  • 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 5-11
  • Airports affected: Fort Lauderdale (FLL); Fort Myers (RSW); Havana (HAV); Nassau (NAS); Orlando (MCO); Punta Cana (PUJ); San Juan (SJU); 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.

Flight Cancellations:

  • Southwest is proactively canceling flights to San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU, 5x daily) and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (PUJ, 2x daily) on Wednesday (September 6, 2017) and Thursday (September 7, 2017).
  • Southwest has also proactively canceled Friday and Saturday flights to Nassau, The Bahamas (NAS, 1x daily) and Havana, Cuba (HAV, 3x daily) on Friday (September 8, 2017) and Saturday (September 9, 2017).

Spirit Airlines

  • Travel dates: Aguadilla, PR (BQN); San Juan, PR (SJU); St. Thomas, USVI (STT)
  • Airports affected: September 5-7
  • 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: Port-au-Prince, HT (PAP); Santiago, DR (STI); Santo Domingo, DR (SDQ)
  • Airports affected: September 7-8
  • 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

  • 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.​​

Featured image by Shutterstock.

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