Will Hurricane Maria Affect Flights? Travelers Should Plan Ahead

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Tragically, Hurricane Maria is currently making its way through the Caribbean, following a strikingly similar path to the devastating Hurricane Irma. In addition to questions about the hurricane's path, and where and when it will make landfall, many are also wondering about the logistical impacts of the storm, including whether or not Hurricane Maria will affect flights.

Unfortunately, Maria, which will likely become a strong Category 4 hurricane, is expected to have significant impacts in the Caribbean region, meaning that flights in this area are already impacted — and will likely continue to be affected as the storm progresses. Thus, if you're flying to, from, or around the area in the coming days, be sure to take note of weather conditions as well as travel alerts from your airline.

Maria officially became a hurricane on Sunday afternoon and marks the seventh Atlantic hurricane of 2017. The Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, and Martinique are all currently under hurricane warnings, while many others have hurricane watches or tropical storm warnings in effect.

The storm is expected to first make landfall on the Leeward Islands on Monday evening. Meteorologists report that the impacts of Maria could be severe, with potential for significant storm surge, rainfall, and flooding.

As a result, many airlines are already taking steps to prepare for Hurricane Maria's potential impacts. As Boarding Area, a travel information blog, reported, thus far at least eight airlines have issued travel alerts related to Hurricane Maria. These airlines include: Delta, United, American, JetBlue, Southwest, Air Canada, WestJet, and InselAir.

Moreover, LIAT, a regional Caribbean airline, also issued a travel advisory, according to its website. The airlines' travel alerts and advisories span across many airports in the Caribbean islands that could be affected by Maria.

These travel alerts and advisories generally allow customers to re-book their flights free of charge within a certain time frame, due to anticipated severe weather from Maria and resultant cancellations and delays. For example, JetBlue is allowing customers with flight reservations from Sept. 19 through Sept. 21, to and from a list of ten different cities in the Caribbean, to rebook their flights free of charge through Sept. 30. Customers can also opt to receive a refund for their flight if it is cancelled.

Other airlines have issued similar policies, with rebooking cities and timelines varying depending upon the airline and the locations to which its planes fly. As Boarding Area reported, it is very likely that additional airlines and airports will issue travel alerts as Maria's path becomes clearer over the next few days.

If you do have travel plans in the Caribbean, it is important to very carefully monitor communication from your airline. You can check your airline's website for travel alerts related to Hurricane Maria and consider rebooking your flight if it is indeed one of those affected by the storm.

Moreover, if you do decide to proceed with your air travel in the region (and it is not cancelled by the airline), it is important to be aware that some airlines will not cover food and lodging costs associated with cancellations or delays related to any connecting flights you may have. For example, LIAT noted this policy via a statement published in the Nation News, a local news outlet in Barbados:

Please be aware that that passengers who decide to travel but are unable to complete their journey due to disruption caused by weather conditions, will not be provided with meals, transportation and hotel accommodation. Passengers with onward connections are advised to contact the respective regional and international carriers.

Overall, if you plan to travel to, from, or through the Caribbean (or even possibly the southern mainland United States) this week, it is imperative that you take note of weather conditions and travel advisories. You should be prepared to alter your travel plans if necessary and, of course, be sure to stay safe, as Hurricane Maria could potentially have devastating effects on the region.