Summer travelers set to visit the Bahamas or just about anywhere on the Eastern Seaboard from North Carolina to New England have been glued to the Weather Channel. Thank Hurricane Irene for that. The major storm has been pummeling the Caribbean with 120-mile-per-hour winds, upending travel plans for those heading to the Bahamas by ship or plane. If the forecast from the National Hurricane Center holds up, most of the 13 original colonies are in for some serious bluster.
When a storm blows in, especially a beast like Irene, what should a savvy traveler do? Keep your eye on airline change fees, cruise ship itinerary scrambling and, if you have one, your travel insurance policy.
Travel Insurance and Storms
If you don’t have a travel insurance policy by now, nothing you purchase at this point will save your trip from Irene. For the next time around, know this: Not all travel insurance policies are created equal, but a good one will cover travelers for trip delay, interruption and cancellation in the event of a major storm — minus any compensation you get from a cruise line or airline.
For a general insurance overview, check out our Guide to Travel Insurance.
Let’s not get carried away, but with Irene looming, a number of U.S. carriers have temporarily adjusted their flight change fee policies. “Typically, the airlines allow you to change your travel dates without the usual fees, with no change in fare, and usually without limitations on your original fare bucket [during a major hurricane],” says Ed Perkins, writer for our sister site Smarter Travel. For example, United passengers originally booked to fly to select destinations from August 21 – 26 must complete their revised travel within seven days, and may have to check on seat availability in their original fare bucket (economy, business, etc.). Continental is being a little more generous. Passengers scheduled to fly to certain destinations from August 21 – 26 must complete their revised travel by the end of ticket validity (up to one year). These temporary policies do vary somewhat significantly, so check your carrier’s Web site for more information.
Many East Coast airports will close this weekend in preparation for the storm, and more than 1,000 flights have been canceled; check with your airline.
Cruises: Diverted but Never Canceled
Mobility is the cruise lines’ secret weapon against hurricanes. Nassau, to which Irene seems drawn, cannot relocate. Cruise ships can, even if it means a Bermuda sailing becomes a voyage to New England, which happened in 2005. More than a dozen Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean ships have scrambled their originally scheduled itineraries. Bahamas-bound ships have temporarily redeployed to the Western Caribbean, trading Nassau for Cozumel and the like. Worst case scenario: If a punishing hurricane makes a debarkation port inaccessible, the line may have to lengthen the cruise by a day, which of course impacts the 3,000 passengers waiting to board for the next sailing. This, however, is rare.
For regular updates on Irene’s impact on cruising, visit our sister site Cruise Critic’s Hurricane Zone, which is updated regularly.
– written by Dan Askin