Hurricane Ian likely to affect travel for days as preparations intensify

Preparations intensified for the season’s latest major storm out of the tropics, as Ian was…

Preparations intensified for the season’s latest major storm out of the tropics, as Ian was upgraded to hurricane status early Monday morning and is expected to strengthen rapidly over the course of the day.

With residents in Florida filling sandbags and boarding up homes as they brace for the effects of the storm, expected in the coming days, the disruptions to travel are becoming a bit clearer with cruise lines rerouting ships, ports closing and federal aviation officials cautioning flight disruptions are likely over the coming days.

As of midmorning Monday, Hurricane Ian was still over the Caribbean Sea, with tropical storm-force winds expected during the afternoon hours at the popular tourist destination of Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands, where data from FlightAware showed about half of all flights canceled at Owen Roberts International Airport (GCM). The storm is expected to bring heavy winds and rain to Jamaica and Cuba, strengthening as it approaches the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf Coast.

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The storm’s exact path remains unclear, which is why emergency officials throughout Florida are urging those across the state to be on alert, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis urging those in the state to regularly check this site to ensure they are not in an area affected by an evacuation order as the storm nears.

“You will see storm surge in places like southwest Florida even though the storm is expected to be 100, 150 miles off the coast of southwest Florida,” DeSantis said at a news conference late Monday morning, noting the storm’s diameter of around 500 miles.

Airlines issued and expanded travel alerts ahead of the storm, allowing even those with normally unchangeable tickets to alter their itineraries to avoid or leave unsafe areas.

Weather model showing Ian over the Caribbean near Jamaica. NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE

Over the weekend, President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency for Florida ahead of the storm’s impacts, with emergency management officials urging those across the state to begin preparations.

Flights to be disrupted by Hurricane Ian

The four largest U.S. airlines, American, Delta, Southwest and United, have issued travel alerts this weekend for destinations most likely to be affected by Ian. The alerts include Grand Cayman, Jamaica and airports across the state of Florida.

Remember, since the three legacy U.S. carriers have, as a general policy, waived change fees on domestic flights and those originating in the U.S. and in many cases the Caribbean — with the exception of basic economy tickets — a key tangible effect of a travel alert is that even those with basic economy tickets will be able to change their itineraries if their travel plans fall under the alert.

Just be sure to check the specific terms of the airline’s alert so you’ll know your deadline for both rebooking and beginning your travels.

“All of these airports may see flight delays related to these weather conditions,” Chris Citrola of the Federal Aviation Administration said in a video posted to social media Monday, regarding Ian’s effects on air operations in Florida.

“We’ll be continually watching that very closely to make sure we’re doing the best we can for keeping everybody safe and out of those airports when that impact does happen,” Citrola added.

The FAA is encouraging those with air travel plans in the coming days to be in close touch with their airline. For that reason, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re quite familiar with your airline’s app.

Delta further warned that weather conditions in Florida could disrupt air travel out of the Northeast; there are, of course, many flights between Florida and key Northeast destinations like New York and Boston.

Air, sea and space logistics affected

As residents and visitors in the western Caribbean and Florida prepare for the effects of Ian, the impending bad weather is having an impact on a variety of air, sea and space operations in Florida.

While initial forecasts appear to suggest the storm is more likely to have a major impact on Florida’s Gulf Coast, along the state’s Space Coast, NASA announced over the weekend it will not move forward with its next launch attempt for Artemis I, the twice-scrubbed unmanned mission to the moon.

NASA’s Artemis I rocket sits on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center on Saturday. SOPA IMAGES/LIGHTROCKET/GETTY IMAGES

After mechanical issues marred a Labor Day weekend launch attempt, NASA had been eyeing a potential Sept. 27 launch. It’s unclear when the next launch attempt may happen.

Meanwhile, Orlando International Airport (MCO) will hold off on some planned changes sparked by the opening of its new Terminal C, airport officials announced. Namely, the airport is postponing JetBlue and Caribbean Airlines’ move to the new terminal because of uncertainty over what operations might look like over the next several days.

The airport is “closely monitoring” Ian, it said on social media Monday, “to identify the potential extent of impact to airport operations.”

Tampa International Airport (TPA) officials are likewise “making preparations to ensure the safety of our team, travelers, and facilities,” the airport said Monday on Twitter.

Cruise lines are also making contingency plans due to Hurricane Ian, even as some itineraries continue to be altered due to the effects of Hurricane Fiona. Several lines have rerouted ships, TPG has learned, with multiple ports at risk to close in the coming days.

Generally, hurricanes and other tropical storms will prompt cruise lines to simply make itinerary changes, ranging from swapping port calls to sailing to different, unaffected regions.

Canceling a trip and travel insurance

A palm tree blows in the wind this month in Bermuda as Hurricane Fiona approached. SEBASTIEN VUAGNAT/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

If you’re considering travel to a destination that may potentially be affected in the coming days, there are important questions to consider, as TPG discussed with a meteorologist while Hurricane Fiona gained strength:

  • If you’re currently at a destination that may be affected by the storm system, what type of backup travel arrangements might you need if you want to leave earlier than planned?
  • If you have a trip to the potentially affected region planned in the coming days, do you have a travel insurance policy that you purchased prior to the storm being named, and what are the terms? How long do you have to decide whether to cancel? (Once a storm is named, it’s generally too late to buy a policy that will cover your expenses.)

Answering these questions with an eye on advance planning can be critical both to your safety as you travel and in protecting the investment you’ve made in a trip.

Bottom line

Hurricane Ian is already disrupting travel, but the effects are expected to grow in the coming days as it continues on its track toward Florida.

As residents and those across the state prepare for the wind and rain likely to come this week, now is the time to be planning ahead, whether you’re planning to travel to an area that might be affected or looking to end your trip early in an area that is in the path of the storm.

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