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California Wildfires Causing Massive Flight Delays, Airlines Expand Waivers

Oct. 12, 2017
4 min read
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Wildfires continue to tear through California, forcing evacuations of entire cities and the resulting in the death of at least 23 people. At least 3,500 buildings and homes have been destroyed. Residents and visitors alike have had to flee the flames at all hours of the night. The devastation is heartbreaking to see.

Firefighters on the ground are getting air support from 30 air tankers and 73 helicopters, including the the largest supertanker in the world. Across three days, the massive 747-400 has run 13 missions over the fires.

SANTA ROSA, CA - OCTOBER 09: Smoke continues to rise from the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country on October 9, 2017 in Santa Rosa, California. Ten people have died in wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres and destroyed over 1,500 homes and businesses in several Northen California counties. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In addition to the tragic impacts on the ground, the wildfires are affecting flights in and out of the Bay Area. At San Francisco airport (SFO) alone, smoke delayed 574 flights Wednesday — accounting for 48% of arrivals and 31% of departures — as well as 114 cancellations.

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On Thursday, delays are starting to pile up. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is only allowing 30 flight arrivals per hour starting at 8am Pacific Time and continuing at least through 7pm Pacific. This is forecast to cause average delays of 192 minutes (3:12 hours).

SFO delay program

Airlines have released travel waivers to help travelers avoid these delays. As of publishing, here are the waivers that are active for California:

Alaska

  • Travel dates: October 9-13
  • Airports affected: Santa Rosa (STS); Sacramento (SMF); San Francisco (SFO); San Jose (SJC); Oakland (OAK)
  • Must have bought your ticket by October 9
  • Rebook travel anytime through October 17
  • You may request a refund if you choose not to travel at all.
  • Tickets must be exchanged or refunded on or before October 17.

American Airlines

  • Travel dates: October 9-12
  • Airports affected: Santa Rosa, Sonoma County (STS)
  • Must have bought your ticket by October 9
  • Rebook travel anytime between October 9-15
  • You can’t change your origin or destination city. Must rebook in same cabin or pay the difference.
  • Travel dates: October 11-15
  • Airports affected: San Francisco, California (SFO)
  • Must have bought your ticket by October 12
  • Rebook travel anytime between October 12-20
  • You can’t change your origin or destination city. Must rebook in same cabin or pay the difference.

United

  • Travel dates: October 11-15
  • Rebook travel through October 20
  • Airports affected: Arcata/Eureka, CA (ACV); San Francisco, CA (SFO); Santa Rosa, CA (STS)
  • ​​​​​​The change fee and any difference in fare will be waived for new United flights departing on or before October 20, as long as travel is rescheduled in the originally ticketed cabin (any fare class) and between the same cities as originally ticketed.
  • Travel dates: October 9-12
  • Rebook travel through October 15
  • Airports affected: Santa Rosa, Sonoma County (STS)
  • ​​​​​​The change fee and any difference in fare will be waived for new United flights departing on or before October 15, as long as travel is rescheduled in the originally ticketed cabin (any fare class) and between the same cities as originally ticketed.

Virgin America

  • Travel dates: October 9-15
  • Must have bought your ticket by October 9
  • Airports affected: San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
  • "For guests with travel plans through SFO, Virgin America is allowing reservations to be changed or canceled with no penalty for up to 7 days"

No waivers at this time from: Delta, Frontier

Featured image by Getty Images