Ian beginning to affect travel with potential to reach US as major hurricane

Garrett Gardner

Even as parts of the Caribbean continue their recovery from Hurricane Fiona and Canada deals with the remnants of the storm system this weekend, concerns are growing about the impact of another strengthening storm: Ian.

Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Cuba, along with the Florida Keys and Florida peninsula are on alert this weekend and heading into the week as the tropical storm, which is expected to strengthen into a significant hurricane, makes its way through the western Caribbean on a track toward the Gulf of Mexico.

While it’s still not clear exactly what path the storm will ultimately take, it’s already having an impact on travel.

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Airlines issued travel alerts this weekend for destinations likely to be affected over the coming days, including for flights to and from Jamaica, Grand Cayman and parts of Florida.

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

The alerts come as 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.

Meanwhile, on the ground in the Cayman Islands — a popular tourist destination for U.S. travelers — government officials planned to open emergency shelters on Sunday; a sign that travelers should consider forging alternate plans whether they’re visiting now or have travel planned in the coming days.

The major airport in the Cayman Islands, Grand Cayman’s Owen Roberts International Airport (GCM) began to see some flight disruptions Sunday, with about a fifth of flights canceled by mid-morning, according to data from FlightAware. The National Hurricane Center expects the island could see hurricane conditions by early Monday.

Ian could produce heavy wind and rain with the potential for flooding and mudslides in the Caribbean. As the storm moves toward the Gulf of Mexico, it’s expected to become a major hurricane and could have a significant effect in Florida over the course of this week, which means the impact on travel to and from Florida could grow in the coming hours and days.

Airlines issue travel alerts

Several U.S. airlines, including American, Delta and United, have issued travel alerts this weekend for destinations most likely to be affected by Ian.

After initially issuing travel alerts for its flights to and from Grand Cayman, Havana and its two destinations in Jamaica, including Montego Bay, American added destinations throughout the state of Florida to its alert, including its hub at Miami International Airport (MIA) and other major Florida airports in Orlando, Tampa, Ft. Myers and Destin/Fort Walton Beach, among others.

Delta issued travel alerts for Grand Cayman. United has alerts out for Grand Cayman and Montego Bay, Jamaica, along with airports across Florida.

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.

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 — whether in Florida or the Caribbean — or if you’re in one of those locations now, it’s a good time to start asking a few key questions, as TPG discussed with a meteorologist last week 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.

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 this 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 rocket sits on the launchpad at Kennedy Space Center Saturday. SOPA IMAGES/LIGHTROCKET/GETTY IMAGES

After mechanical issues marred a Labor Day weekend launch attempt, NASA had been eyeing a potential Sept. 27 (Tuesday) 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 also reported storm preparations and preparations were underway.

This weekend has also seen popular Florida cruise ports putting travelers on alert, with multiple ports under port condition “X-Ray,” which means gale force winds are expected within 48 hours. If port conditions are upgraded to “Yankee,” the port would close, with gale winds expected within 24 hours at that point. Ports in Miami, the Everglades and Tampa were all operating at “X-Ray” Sunday morning, with Port Canaveral one rung lower, at port condition “Whiskey.”

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.

Bottom line

Ian has the potential to strengthen from a tropical storm to a hurricane in the coming days and is on a track that puts those on several Caribbean islands and the state of Florida at risk.

With likely impacts on travel in the days to come, now is a good time to begin 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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