Airlines Issuing Waivers In Anticipation Of Hurricane

As the projected severity of the Tropical Storm in the Gulf of Mexico increases, most domestic airlines in the US have started to issue waivers for travel over the next few days. The National Hurricane Center is predicting that this storm is going to intensify, and could be a major hurricane with the accompanying life-threatening flash floods and storm surges.

Significant amounts of rain (much less a hurricane) can cause systemwide disruptions, so if you’re scheduled to travel in the coming days you’ll want to take precautions.

If you live in coastal Texas, hopefully you already have plans in place for these types of storms. If you’re planning on traveling to or through the region, however, you’ll want to monitor the situation closely.

The major airports in Houston, Austin, New Orleans, and San Antonio look to be far enough out of the projected center path to avoid severe damage, but will likely still receive an abundance of heavy rain. That will typically put a huge stress on flight operations, with rolling delays and even cancelations. And of course, smaller airports from Brownsville to Lake Charles could close entirely.

At present, we aren’t seeing mass cancelations of flights for this weekend. That could always change though, and many airlines have already posted weather waivers.

In general, the airlines are going to accommodate you if you’re able or willing to move your plans around — after all, they don’t benefit from having cranky passengers stuck in the terminal either. There are nuances to each policy though, so you can see the individual policies on the airline sites.

Not every airline has posted a waiver, but I’ve included the links to where a waiver will potentially be posted regardless:

Keep in mind that as the severity of the storm increases, the parameters of the waiver can change. At the time of this writing, for example, Delta has a very limited waiver for Houston only. So if you’re flying Delta and Houston isn’t your final destination, you might want to continue monitoring versus changing your ticket right away.

Tips for rebooking

Regardless of the reason for flight cancelations, phone queues can get ugly fast. Given that many people need to rebook at the same time, you might be able to get new plans confirmed more quickly by using an alternate method.

Try the club lounge

Don’t leave this until Saturday, but if the situation changes and you’re already at the airport, start with the lounge agents. They tend to have fewer passengers to deal with than the gate agents, and thus may have more time (and more patience), when it comes to rebooking your flight.

Reach out on social media

I’ve had good luck changing flights by sending direct messages to American via Twitter. Several other airlines have a Twitter presence as well, and while they might not be able to fix your reservation, it’s worth trying:

Avoid the domestic call centers

If you’re willing to spend a few dollars on Skype or Google Voice credit, calling the international call center for an airline can often save you an hour or more of hold time.

Almost all of these call centers have an English-speaking option, but you can also call Australia, or even just Canadian numbers can get you through faster.

¿Hablas Español?

If you have a rudimentary understanding of Spanish (like, just enough to get through the computer system), you can try the Spanish-speaking numbers. Again, fewer people calling means shorter hold times, and the agents typically speak English as well.

  • American Airlines Spanish line: 1-800-633-3711
  • Southwest Spanish line: 1-800-VAMONOS
  • United Airlines Spanish line: 1-800-426-5561

Be your own advocate

This is maybe more a life philosophy than one specific to travel disruptions, but it holds true — no one cares about you (or your travel) as much as you do.

So be nice, but ask questions, present alternatives, be prepared to book your own hotel rather than waiting in line with a hundred other people for a voucher, and so forth.

If you stand around and wait, you will almost certainly have a worse time than those who are actively finding solutions to the situation.

Check your credit card coverage

If you purchased your tickets with a credit card, you may have some additional protection and benefits when your flight is delayed. Check with your credit card company, or see our list of popular travel cards with good delay coverage.

These cards will often cover your hotel, or the cost of a new flight, and so forth, so it’s good to know both the benefits and the requirements to file a claim.

Bottom line

As I say every time we have a major storm, you want to be as proactive as possible in these situations. Pay attention to your flight, along with the status of your inbound aircraft, and be prepared to react quickly and creatively.

If you have plans to travel to the region, I’d suggest rescheduling now, as it looks like the ground situation is going to be messy at best. And keep in mind that even if you aren’t traveling in, to, or through the storm corridor, your aircraft might be, so you could still be impacted by this storm.

This isn’t a situation you can control, but you can lessen the impact on your life. The best thing to do is pay attention, and be as proactive as you can.

Anyone living in or flying to/through Coastal Texas this weekend? What’s your plan?

Comments

  1. FYI, even if you are flying another airline that hasn’t posted an advisory, you may be able to be reaccomodated on their partner flights, at least if there’s a JV in place.

    For example, a colleague had a ticket to Europe booked on Air France ticket/metal out of Houston (via Paris). They were able to call and change outbound portion to a flight out of Austin (via Atlanta) on Delta metal.

    It’s also a very good idea to have the new routing already prepared so you can just feed flight numbers to an agent instead of them trying to find a solution on their own.

    Good luck to everyone!

  2. Tiffany, I wish you’d write more for this blog. Great advice, great humour (humor in the USA, I know) and a great gal.

  3. +1 to comment above. Tiffany’s one of the best travel writers, always apt and informative posts that read well.

  4. @Tiffany: many thanks for this article. I have just returned from Europe, so did not know about the hurricane. I was scheduled to fly this Saturday on this route: ONT-SFO-HOU-BNA (this was the only saver award routing available back then). So I called United, and they kindly changed it to a ONT-SFO-BNA, which is FAR better and safer. Thanks again for the heads up!

  5. Actually a slow moving tropical storm can dump huge amounts of rain, more than a swift moving hurricane. The new projections have this storm coming ashore near Corpus Christi and then stalling and slowly moving north over the Houston-Galveston area by Monday.

    With coastal flooding from the storm surge backing up the rivers inland, this may be a monster flooding event. Rainfall projections of 24+ inches are now showing.

    I am in Galveston county

  6. Tried to get help last night at the Admirals club in DFW and they said they can only help if it is same day travel. Disappointing response as I have had future help before. Called the EXP line and they quickly changed my routing to my surprise. So far so good but hopefully the storm will stay away from DFW this weekend.

  7. As someone who lives in Houston, this is looking like it could be bad through Tuesday or Wednesday of next week, so keep that in mind if your travels occur at the beginning of the workweek. May not just be a weekend issue!

  8. The problem in Houston, and to a lesser extent Austin and San Antonio, isn’t the hurricane itself, but the extreme rainfall predicted. IF the current forecasts verify (always a big if), metro Houston can expect 15-20″ of rain, with localized amounts of 30″+ across the S/SW parts of town. That would make it similar to Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. Not only will that disrupt the airports for several days, but make it virtually impossible to get around or even out of the city if you end up stranded at IAH or HOU. During Allison, every major freeway in and out of downtown shut down for a period of time due to flooding, and even the Texas Medical Center hospital buildings suffered significant disruptions due to basement flooding. Best to avoid trying to transit through IAH or HOU this weekend if you can, at least until it’s a little clearer what Harvey will do after landfall.

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