Will Hurricane Irma Affect Flights? Airlines Are Still Struggling From Harvey

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Flights to Houston are just now starting again. George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport reopened Wednesday, but many regional flights by United (which has one of its largest domestic hubs in the city's intercontinental airport) only began on Friday. Getting back to normal, with hundreds of departures a day from the city could take quite some time — and now there's another hurricane on the horizon. Wherever Irma goes, the potential to affect flights is largely based on past cancellations, like what you have seen with Harvey.

Currently, the storm is still halfway over the Atlantic Ocean, so it is not affecting any airports. But when it reaches land, that could change and cancellations are all but guaranteed, especially if it maintains or exceeds its Category 3 classification. Right now AccuWeather meteorologists think it will first hit the Lesser Antilles in the eastern Caribbean, but beyond that, its path is anyone's guess. Still, whether it moves over Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, or any other part of the area, airports and flights are sure to be affected.

To get a better idea of what you might see from Irma when it reaches a populated land mass, take a look at what happened with Hurricane Harvey in the United States, the most developed country in the region. Close to 10,000 flights have been canceled across the region affected by the storm. In Houston alone, the total number of flight cancellations reached 7,000 as of Wednesday. More flights were canceled Thursday and Friday, even though the city's airports have reopened.

Getting back to regular operations for airlines could take a long time. United is waiving fees on flights scheduled through Nov. 15, meaning that traveler's plans could be affected for months to come. Friday was set to be the busiest travel day of Labor Day weekend, but Southwest isn't even resuming flights in Houston until Saturday — and the hurricane moved out of the area days ago.

It's important to also remember that it doesn't even take a hurricane to disrupt flights. Back on Aug. 29, a resource to travel agents warned of Potential Tropical Cyclone 10, a tropical system along the East Coast that was expected to bring lots of rainfall after Harvey (notably, this resource suggested that the "potential cyclone" could be the beginnings of Hurricane Irma). They noted that airlines were offering travel waivers — something that you might want to look into if you have flights planned to the Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico when storms like this are heading in. You can usually change your flight for free, which would keep you from getting stuck anywhere in the path of a hurricane.

If you're headed to a beach vacation in the coming weeks, it would be wise to pay attention to Irma's path. It might be best to reschedule if she's headed anywhere near your destination.