As Florida’s panhandle braces for the "potentially catastrophic" Hurricane Michael to make landfall late Wednesday, the storm is having an impact on travel across the southeastern U.S.
Now an intense Category 4 hurricane, the storm has maximum sustained wind speeds of 145 miles per hour, forcing airlines to ground flights and airports to temporarily cease operations. Florida airports in Tallahassee, Panama City, Pensacola and Destin-Fort Walton Beach said they will be closed to commercial flights as of Wednesday, with hopes to resume on Thursday. Nearly 200 flights to and from airports in the area are canceled for Wednesday, according to flight tracker FlightAware.
Eight airlines have already issued travel waivers for Hurricane Michael, with Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest and United extending their waivers all the way up to Atlanta.
Delta Air Lines said it will be capping airfare to and from certain cities in Florida and Alabama between Tuesday and Thursday. Fares will be capped at $299 each way for coach class and $499 for first class to and from Pensacola, Panama City, Destin-Fort Walton Beach and Tallahassee, Florida; and Mobile, Alabama.
In addition to the cities above, Delta has expanded its travel waiver to include Albany, Augusta, and Valdosta in Georgia; and Dothan, Alabama; allowing customers traveling through impacted markets free checked baggage, pet-in-cabin fees and the ability to make a one-time change to their travel plans without incurring a fee.
The airline also said it does not anticipate any impact to its operation at Hartsfield-Jackson "as the storm is expected to remain southeast of Atlanta while winds and rain are forecast to remain within operational limits."
Southwest Airlines is waiving the difference of fares for those traveling between Oct. 6-9 to or from Cancun and Havana; and passengers traveling between Oct. 9-11 to or from New Orleans, Panama City, or Pensacola. New flights must be booked within 14 days of the original trip.
United will waive any change fees and the difference in fares for flights between Oct. 9-11 for the following airports: Atlanta, Charleston, Columbia, Ft. Walton Beach, Greenville-Spartanburg, Mobile, Myrtle Beach, Panama City, Pensacola, and Savannah.
American Airlines is waiving rebooking fees for those traveling from Oct. 9-11 between Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Panama City, Pensacola, and Tallahassee, Florida; as well as Mobile, Alabama.
Passengers flying out of Atlanta on JetBlue on Oct. 10-11 can rebook their flights for travel through Oct. 13 at no charge. Customers with canceled flights may also opt for a refund to the original form of payment.
Other airlines that have issued similar waivers include WestJet, Frontier, and Allegiant.
Cruise lines have also been monitoring the storm’s path across the Gulf of Mexico and rerouting some of their ships. Norwegian Cruise Line’s biggest ship, the 4,248-passenger Norwegian Getaway, called on Falmouth, Jamaica, instead of Roatan, Honduras, on Tuesday. It will substitute a call at Grand Cayman for Costa Maya, Mexico, on Wednesday. The ship is expected to visit Cozumel on Friday, as scheduled.
Carnival Cruise Line made changes to several of its ships’ itineraries. The 2,980-passenger Carnival Glory skipped its call at Grand Cayman Monday for a day at sea. The ship departed Miami on Saturday on a seven-day voyage to the Western Caribbean.
On a weeklong Caribbean cruise, Carnival Freedom also spent Monday at sea, instead of calling at Mahogany Bay, Honduras. The ship will visit Belize on Wednesday.
After departing from New Orleans on Monday, Carnival Triumph altered its itinerary to visit the same ports but in reverse order, calling at Progreso, Mexico, on Wednesday and Cozumel on Thursday.
Royal Caribbean has not altered any ship itineraries. According to Royal Caribbean International’s Chief Meteorologist James Van Fleet, “All Royal Caribbean ships have stayed behind the storm.” In a Twitter post, he said Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas will come in behind the storm when it returns to Tampa, and Liberty of the Seas is “staying to the Western Gulf until it is gone.”
Amtrak also said its Silver Star service from New York to Miami would operate from Miami to Jacksonville, Florida, beginning Wednesday; and the Palmetto, which runs between New York and Savannah, Georgia, will operate between New York and Washington, D.C., beginning Thursday. Amtrak is waiving fees for passengers who must change their reservations.