Flight Cancellations and Airport Closures as Hurricane Michael Strengthens to Category 2

Oct 9, 2018

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After a brief hiatus overnight, Hurricane Michael began strengthening again Tuesday morning. As of the 11am ET advisory, the hurricane has intensified to 110mph top sustained winds — nearly a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale — with its minimum pressure dropping again to 965 millibars.

The latest forecast calls for continued strengthening to 125mph top sustained winds before making landfall on the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday afternoon. If it makes landfall as expected as a Category 3 major hurricane, this would mark just the third major hurricane to make landfall in the continental US in the past 13 years.

Although the hurricane winds will be very destructive at the point of landfall, the real threat from Hurricane Michael is the life-threatening storm surge. Due to the shaping of the Florida coast, Hurricane Michael will continue to funnel rain into the coast, causing disastrous storm surge of up to 12 feet. The current storm surge forecast is:

  • Indian Pass FL to Cedar Key FL…8-12 ft
  • Cedar Key FL to Crystal River FL…6-8 ft
  • Okaloosa/Walton County Line FL to Indian Pass FL…6-9 ft
  • Crystal River FL to Aripeka FL…4-6 ft
  • Aripeka FL to Anna Maria Island FL including Tampa Bay…2-4 ft
  • Alabama/Florida border to Okaloosa/Walton County Line FL…2-4 ft

And the storm surge has already begun on the Florida Panhandle. Although the center of the hurricane is still more than 300 miles, the tide in Apalachicola, FL are more than two feet higher than the predicted tide level:

While the main flooding threat from Hurricane Michael is going to be from storm surge, there’s also the potential for some flash flooding from the powerful hurricane’s rain. A total of 6-10 inches of rain are expected across a wide swath of the Southeast, with some of the areas hard hit by Hurricane Florence getting another round of rains on top of already-saturated ground.

Flight Cancellations

Flight cancellations are already starting for Hurricane Michael. According to FlightAware’s cancellation tracker, there’s 295 US flights cancelled on Tuesday, 79 cancelled for Wednesday and 9 cancelled already for Thursday. Here’s the total number of cancellations for Tuesday-Thursday for airports in the path of the storm:

  • Pensacola, Florida (PNS): 39 cancellations
  • Panama City, Florida (ECP): 33 cancellations
  • Tallahassee, Florida (TLH): 26 cancellations
  • Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS): 22 cancellations

Airport Closures

There are a number of closures occurring in anticipation of the storm’s arrival — including beaches, schools and universities:

Airport closures haven’t been as widespread yet. Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS) was the first commercial airport to announce its closure, effective 12:01am on Wednesday morning:

In addition, nearby airports of Destin Executive Airport (DTS) and Bob Sikes Airport (CEW) will also close at 12:01am Wednesday morning.

Northwest Florida Beaches Intl (ECP) near Panama City, FL hasn’t announced an airport closure, but warns passengers that “upcoming flight schedules at ECP will be impacted. Please check with your airline for any flight-related questions and before heading to the airport.” However, considering ta the airport is under a mandatory evacuation, it’s unlikely that commercial flights will operate for much longer.

Fare Caps and Fee Waivers

So far, Delta is the only airline to cap airfares. From Tuesday through Thursday, Delta will charge no more than $299 for economy and $499 for first-class tickets for one-way flights to/from Pensacola, Panama City, Destin, Fort Walton Beach, Tallahassee and Mobile.

Due to the storm’s quick movement — and the location of major airports along the predicted path — widespread travel disruptions are possible for Wednesday and Thursday. Thankfully, airlines have started issuing waivers to allow flexible travelers the chance to rebook out of the path of the storm.

Eight airlines have already issued travel waivers for Hurricane Michael, with Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest and United extending their waiver all the way up to Atlanta. As of 11:00am ET, the following airlines have issued waivers for Hurricane Michael:

In This Post

Allegiant

  • Allegiant’s website warns its flyers that “based on forecasted weather conditions, our scheduled service may be disrupted (flights may be delayed, diverted, and / or cancelled) to and from the following cities on the dates indicated below.” At this time, it doesn’t seem that Allegiant is allowing free changes.
  • Travel dates: October 9-12
  • Covered airports: Destin, FL (VPS); Gulfport, MS (GPT); Jacksonville, FL (JAX); Myrtle Beach, SC (MYR); New Orleans, LA (MSY); Savannah, GA (SAV)
  • Travel dates listed below may be disrupted due to the weather conditions.  Please continue to monitor this page for updates regarding your flight (s). Customers may also call Allegiant Customer Care at 702-505-8888 at any time 24 hours per day, seven days a week for assistance.

American

  • Travel dates: October 9-11
  • Covered airports: Destin / Fort Walton Beach, Florida (VPS); Mobile, Alabama (MOB); Panama City, Florida (ECP); Pensacola, Florida (PNS); Tallahassee, Florida (TLH)
  • Must have purchased ticket by: October 8
  • Rebooked travel must occur between October 8-13.
  • However, passengers also have the option to “delay your trip.” If changes are made by October 13, AA will allow you change your flights to/from the affected area for up to 1 year beyond original ticketing. Change fees will be waived, but a difference in fare will be charged if applicable.
  • Rebook in the same cabin or pay the difference. No changes in origin or destination are allowed.
  • Avoid the phone queue. Changes available on both AA’s website and in the AA app.

Delta

  • Travel dates: October 9-10
  • Covered airports: Fort Walton Beach, FL (VPS); Mobile, AL (MOB); Panama City, FL (ECP); Pensacola, FL (PNS); Tallahassee, FL (TLH)
  • Tickets must have been purchased by: October 8
  • Tickets must be reissued by: October 13
  • Rebooked travel must begin no later than: October 13
  • 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 October 13, 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: October 9-11
  • Covered airports: Pensacola, FL (PNS); Atlanta, GA (ATL); Birmingham, AL (BHM); Tampa, FL (TPA)
  • Customers who are ticketed to travel between October 9 and October 11, who purchased tickets on or before October 8, may make one itinerary change – rules/restrictions regarding standard change fees, advance purchase, day or time applications, blackouts, and minimum or maximum stay requirements will be waived.
  • Travel must be completed no later than October 31. Origin and destination cities may be changed. Customers whose flights are cancelled may request a refund.

JetBlue

  • Travel dates: October 10-11
  • Covered airports: Atlanta (ATL)
  • Customers may rebook their flights for travel through October 13
  • Original travel must have been booked on or before October 8
  • Customers with cancelled flights may also opt for a refund to the original form of payment
  • Make the change online in the ‘Manage Flights’ section of jetblue.com or by calling 1-800-JETBLUE (538-2583) prior to the departure time of their originally scheduled flight

Southwest

  • Cancun (CUN) and Havana (HAV) — Travel dates: October 6-9
  • Tampa (TPA) — Travel dates: October 6-9
  • Atlanta (ATL) — Travel dates: October 8-12
  • New Orleans (MSY); Panama City (ECP); Pensacola (PNS) — Travel dates: October 9-11
  • Charleston (CHS) — Travel dates: October 9-12
  • Norfolk (ORF); Raleigh-Durham (RDU) — Travel dates: October 9-13
  • Customers who are holding reservations to/from/through the cities listed above on the corresponding dates, 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.
  • 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: October 9-11
  • Covered airports: Atlanta, GA (ATL)​; Charleston, SC (CHS)​; Columbia, SC (CAE)​; Ft. Walton Beach, FL (VPS)​; Greenville-Spartanburg, SC (GSP)​; Mobile, AL (MOB); Myrtle Beach, SC (MYR)​; Panama City, FL (ECP)​; Pensacola, FL (PNS)​; Savannah, GA (SAV)​
  • The change fee and any difference in fare will be waived for new United flights departing between October 8, and October 18, as long as travel is rescheduled in the originally ticketed cabin (any fare class) and between the same cities as originally ticketed.
  • For wholly rescheduled travel departing after October 18, or for a change in departure or destination city, the change fee will be waived, but a difference in fare may apply. Rescheduled travel must be completed within one year from the date when the ticket was issued.

No waivers from: Alaska, Spirit

Protect Your Travels

Hurricane Michael 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’s trip delay protection, which reimbursed $1,000 of our expenses.

Although Citi Prestige used to be my go-to for booking flights, a recent devaluation to the card’s travel benefits knocked it out of its top spot. Currently, I’m using my Chase Sapphire Reserve to book my flights going forward. Other top choices are the Chase Sapphire Preferred CardCiti / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard and the Citi Premier Card.

Featured image courtesy of the Today Show via Twitter.

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