Airlines Issue Travel Waivers as Hurricane Fiona Hits Caribbean

American, Delta, United, Southwest, and JetBlue have all issued various waivers for destinations in the Caribbean amid the disruptions and devastation of Hurricane Fiona.

Severe Thunderstorm at Tobacco Bay Beach in St. George's Bermuda

The storm is expected to head toward Bermuda later this week.

Charlie Hales

All of the major U.S. airlines are waiving changes and cancellations for numerous flights to and from the Caribbean as Hurricane Fiona moved towards the Turks and Caicos on Tuesday after wreaking havoc in Puerto Rico over the weekend.

After operations were suspended at San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU) in Puerto Rico on Sunday, flights were able to resume as of 11 a.m. local time on Monday, according to a message on Twitter posted by Aeropuerto SJU, which oversees the hub’s operations. According to the post, the runways have been inspected, and the traffic control tower is not damaged. “It is up to each airline to determine when they feel they can fly,” the Twitter message stated.

The airports in Ponce and Mayagüez were inoperative Monday due to flooding, according to the Puerto Rico Emergency Portal System (PREPS). Aguadilla airport was operating at 100 percent, PREPS reported, and Arecibo and Humacao were being inspected on Monday.

But with Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi describing the damages in Puerto as “catastrophic,” and with many people still without water and electricity, it could be days or longer before many services return to the island.

Hurricane Fiona hit the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday as a Category 3 storm after devastating Puerto Rico, where most of the population remained without electricity or running water on Wednesday. Late Tuesday night, the storm was centered about 75 miles north of North Caicos Island, with hurricane-force winds extending up to 30 miles from the center. Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 125 miles per hour and was moving north-northwest at 8 miles per hour, according to the Hurricane Center, which said the storm was likely to strengthen into a Category 4 hurricane as it approaches Bermuda on Friday, the Associated Press reported.

For those who need or want to change their travel plans to the region, thankfully all of the major U.S. carriers dropped their change fees during the pandemic for all but Basic Economy fares, making it very easy and convenient for travelers to cancel and change their flights, including in times of crisis such as this. The new policies allow travelers to cancel their flight and immediately get flight credit that can be applied to future travel.

But some of the airlines have gone a step further and are waiving the fare difference or dropping the change fee for Basic Economy fares as well for flights during and in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Fiona.

Airlines’ Hurricane Fiona rebooking policies

United has issued a Hurricane Fiona travel waiver for travel to and from Puerto Rico. The original ticket must have been purchased by September 17, 2022, for travel that takes place September 19–25, 2022. The change fee and any fare difference are being waived for travel between the same cities and must be rebooked by October 2, 2022. For a change in departure or destination city, the change fee will be waived, but not the fare difference.

American isn’t waiving the fare difference but is waiving the change fee for Basic Economy fares as well as all other fare classes for a large swath of travel in the Caribbean as long as the ticket was purchased by September 14, 2022, for travel that was scheduled September 17–23, 2022.

Delta has dropped the fare difference for most Caribbean travel through September 23, 2022, for the same cabin of service as originally booked. Bookings for travel scheduled to take place after September 23, 2022, will have a fare difference applied but there will be no change fee—as always.

Southwest customers who were booked to travel to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, or San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 17–20, 2022, can rebook in the original class of service for no added charge.

JetBlue is waiving the change fee and fare differences for travel that was scheduled to take place September 16–19, 2022, to and from Puerto Rico, and for travel that was scheduled to take place September 18–19, 2022, to and from the Dominican Republic. JetBlue issued a change fee and fare difference waiver for the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos for travel that was scheduled to take place September 19–20.

How can travel insurance help?

Of course, travel is about more than just the flight. Some travelers may be midjourney and may need additional rebooking assistance, or have hotels, car rentals, and other experiences booked that may not offer a full refund.

If the travel was booked with a credit card, be sure to check your credit card benefits portfolio. Many credit cards include travel insurance coverage such as trip cancellation and interruption coverage and trip delay coverage.

If you don’t have travel insurance coverage through a credit card and are hoping to add it last-minute to cover an upcoming trip, it won’t be useful with regards to Hurricane Fiona–related disruptions. Once a natural disaster such as Hurricane Fiona has struck and is considered a known or foreseeable event, it is no longer covered by most travel insurance policies. The only exception is “Cancel for Any Reason” (CFAR) coverage, an optional upgrade to a standard travel insurance plan that typically needs to be purchased within 7 to 21 days of making the initial trip deposit. So if you bought travel insurance prior to the arrival of Hurricane Fiona or decided to add CFAR coverage within the required time frame, you should expect some protection.

Associated Press contributed reporting.

Michelle Baran is a deputy editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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