US carriers expand waivers as Hurricane Florence approaches

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September 12, 2018
Hurricane Florence airlines waivers
Hurricane Florence from space. Photo: NASA

All eyes are now on monster storm Hurricane Florence after two other hurricanes affecting US airline operations were downgraded to tropical storms.

Airlines began expanding waivers, capping fares and removing baggage fees as the Category 4 hurricane moved towards the US coast and are working on the massive disruption the storm is likely to cause to flights.

US officials issued a hurricane warning for more than 300 miles of coastline as more than 1.5 million people were told to evacuate. Highways were converted to one-way evacuation routes as motorists streamed inland.

North and South Carolina are expected to face tropical storm level winds as early as Thursday morning and hurricane-force winds later that day.

The US National Hurricane Center warned late Tuesday US time that Florence was expected to bring a life-threatening storm surge and rainfall to portions of the Carolinas and mid-Atlantic states.

It said the giant storm was moving west-northwest at 17mph (28kmh)  with maximum sustained wind gusts near 140mph (220kmh).

Hurricane waivers airlines
Hurricane Florence on Tuesday night US east coast time. Source: National Hurricane Centre.

Politicians, including US President Donald Trump, joined the chorus of warnings as fears remained the Hurricane could develop move into the most dangerous category, Category 5.

“This storm is a monster. It’s big and it’s vicious. It is an extremely, dangerous, life-threatening, historic hurricane,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said.

Airlines have been responding to the emergency and began announcing fee waivers.

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United Airlines is waiving change, baggage and in-cabin pet fees for all flights to a host of mid-Atlantic cities in the Carolinas and Virginia as well as Savannah, Georgia, as more than 1.5 million people evacuate ahead of Hurricane Florence.

The US carrier said it was offering a travel waiver for customers ticketed on flights to, from or through affected cities from September 10 through to September 16.

Customers could reschedule their itineraries for travel through September 20 with a one-time date or time change without change fees or fare differences.

The airline also reduced fares to below what it would normally charge for impacted markets.

Delta Air Lines also announced it was capping fares and had implemented a baggage and pet in-cabin fee waiver to and from select cities from September 10 to 17.

It has also expanded its weather waiver to take in Savannah and Charlottesville, Virginia.

“Decisions regarding flight cancellations or other disruptions at airports along the coastal Southeast are expected approximately 24 hours prior to the storm making landfall,” Delta said.

“In addition to flight disruptions caused by the storm’s impact, cancellations may also be driven by conditions on the ground at airports in Florence’s path, such as severe flooding, power outages or other infrastructure constraints.

“Delta also continues to monitor for any updates from state and local officials as evacuation warnings are issued.”

Other US carriers are also offering fee waivers to destinations they serve in the affected areas.

The pressure has lessened in the Hawaiian Islands after Hurricane Olivia was downgraded to a tropical storm.

Tropical storm warnings were still in effect late Tuesday Hawaiian time but the system, which was predicted to have passed  Hawaii by Wednesday afternoon, was tipped to weaken.

A similar situation occurred with former Hurricane Isaac as it approaches the Lesser Antilles islands. The National Hurricane Center forecast Isaac would across the central Lesser Antilles and into the eastern Caribbean on Thursday, gradually weakening over the next few days

Tropical storm warnings were still in effect for Martinique, Dominica and Guadeloupe and storm watches for Antigua, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis,  Saba and St. Eustatius.

A tropical storm warning means that tropical storm conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area within 36 hours. A tropical storm watch means that tropical storm conditions are possible within the watch area, in this case within 36 to 48 hours.