Tropical Storm Imelda makes landfall, threatens havoc on Houston flights this week

Sep 17, 2019

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9/20/2019 10:30 a.m.: Weather waivers updated through Sept. 20.

What a quick turn of events! This morning, the National Hurricane Center noted that a tropical wave in the Gulf of Mexico had a slight chance of developing into a storm. By 1:30 p.m. Central Time, Tropical Storm Imelda had made landfall on the Texas coast.

The slow-moving storm now threatens to dump up to 15 inches of rain in parts of coastal Texas and southwest Louisiana through Thursday, producing life-threatening flash floods. The combination of the heavy rain, flooding and winds could wreak havoc on Houston airports for the remainder of this week.

The storm has already pushed United to release change fee waivers covering all flights in, out and through Houston Intercontinental (IAH) through Sept. 19. Using this waiver, flexible travelers can reschedule trips or route through another United hub to get where they need to go.

Southwest and Delta have since added a travel waiver.

In This Post

Forecast

As of the 4 p.m. Central Time National Hurricane Center advisory, the center of Tropical Storm Imelda was located just 30 miles south of Houston, Texas with top sustained wind speeds of 40 mph. Tropical Storm Warnings remain in effect for the Texas coast from Sargent to Port Bolivar. The forecast map shows just how slow the storm is expected to crawl across eastern Texas:

Since the storm is inland, no additional strengthening is forecast. The wind speeds are expected to drop to 35 mph by Wednesday morning and 30 mph Wednesday afternoon.

But the main threat from this storm is from the rain, rather than from the winds. The NHC is forecasting  total rainfall accumulations of 6-12 inches with isolated maximum amounts of 18 inches across the upper coastal region of Texas, including Houston and Galveston. That’s enough to produce significant to life-threatening flash floods, but thankfully will be far less devastating than Hurricane Harvey.

Flight cancellations

Due to the quick formation of the storm, there haven’t been many flight cancellations from this storm so far. As of 6 p.m. CT, FlightAware flight cancellation tracker has tracked:

  • Houston Intercontinental (IAH): 5 cancellations and 388 delays Tuesday, 1 cancellation Thursday
  • Houston Hobby (HOU): 6 cancellations and 55 delays Tuesday

However, these cancellations and delays are likely to increase as the winds increase and rain accumulates.

Airline waivers

As of 10:30 a.m. Friday, the following airlines have issued travel waivers for Tropical Storm Imelda:

American

  • Travel dates: Sept. 18-20
  • Covered airports: Houston Intercontinental (IAH) and Houston Hobby (HOU)
  • Tickets must have been purchased by: Sept. 18
  • Tickets must be reissued by: Sept. 23
  • Rebooked travel must begin no later than: Sept. 23
  • Your change fee may be waived if you:
    • Are traveling on an American Airlines flight
    • Bought your ticket by Sept. 18
    • Are scheduled to travel Sept. 18-20
    • Can travel Sept. 18-23
    • Don’t change your origin or destination city
    • Rebook in the same cabin or pay the difference

Delta

  • Travel dates: Sept. 17-20
  • Covered airports: Houston Intercontinental (IAH) and Houston Hobby (HOU)
  • Tickets must have been purchased by: Sept. 17
  • Tickets must be reissued by: Sept. 23
  • Rebooked travel must begin no later than: Sept. 23
  • Changes to origins and destinations may result in an increase in fare. Any difference in fare between your original ticket and the new ticket will be collected at the time of booking.
  • When rescheduled travel occurs beyond Sept. 23, 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 is not able to 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. Applicable change fee and fare difference will apply for new travel dates.

Frontier

  • Travel dates: Sept. 17-21
  • Covered airports: Houston Intercontinental (IAH) and Houston Hobby (HOU)
  • Tickets must have been purchased by: Sept. 16
  • Rebooked travel must begin no later than: Oct. 4
  • Origin and destination cities may be changed
  • Customers whose flights are cancelled may request a refund

Southwest

  • Travel dates: Sept. 17-20
  • Covered airports: Houston Hobby (HOU)
  • Customers holding reservations to/from/through Houston Hobby on the dates listed above 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 our accommodation procedures) without paying any additional charge.
  • Customers who purchased their itinerary via Southwest.com or our mobile app are eligible to reschedule their travel plans online or from their mobile device. Customers who did not purchase a ticket via Southwest.com can call 1-800-435-9792 to speak with a Customer Representative.

United

  • Travel dates: Sept. 17-20
  • Covered airports: Houston, TX (IAH)​
  • Flight changes: The change fee and any difference in fare will be waived for new United flights departing on or before Sept. 23, as long as travel is rescheduled in the originally ticketed cabin (any fare class) and between the same cities as originally ticketed. View your reservation and select Change Flight to search for alternate flights.
  • ​​Original ticket must have been purchased by: Sept. 17, 2019​​​​

Protect your travels

Tropical Storm Imelda is another reminder to book flights with a card that offers solid trip delay and cancellation insurance. When I got stuck in Japan for four extra days due to a typhoon, I was very grateful for the Citi Prestige® Card’s trip delay protection, which reimbursed $1,000 of our expenses.

Unfortunately Trip Delay Protection is being eliminated on the Citi Prestige — and all other Citi cards — for flights booked on or after Sept. 22, 2019. Starting then, I’ll be using my Chase Sapphire Reserve to book my flights going forward. Other top choices are the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card — which each offer protection starting with a six-hour delay. In addition, there are six other cards where the protections kick in after a 12-hour delay.

Featured image courtesy of the National Hurricane Center

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