Hurricane Florence air travel: What you need to know about cancellations, fare caps and waivers

Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina on Friday morning with top winds of 90 miles per hour, prompting flight cancellations in the southeastern U.S. through the weekend.

Several airports in the region suspended operations. A spokeswoman at Charleston International Airport said flights are canceled until at least Friday night. Airlines canceled more than 700 flights scheduled for Friday. Two hundred flights, or about half of the departures and arrivals at Raleigh-Durham International Airport were canceled.

More than 400 flights in and out of the region scheduled for this weekend were also canceled, according to flight-tracking site FlightAware.com. The cancellations, over 1,500, are minimal compared with last year’s hurricane season, when more 20,000 flights were called off during three devastating hurricanes last year — Harvey, Irma and Maria, which hit major airlines’ hubs.

Airlines urged travelers to monitor their websites for information about the storm.

Southwest Airlines stopped stop flying out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Thursday through at least Friday night. American Airlines canceled more than 800 flights in and out of the region through Sunday, but said it did not expect the storm to cause it to cancel flights in its Charlotte hub.

American, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways and United Airlines said they capped some airfares at levels below what last-minute tickets would cost. Airlines were criticized on social media last year when fares soared ahead of storms. Last-minute fares generally spike during periods of high demand and airlines have to change prices manually for events like a large storm.

Carriers are also waiving fees for changing flights, baggage and for in-cabin pets for travelers who could be affected by the storm. Delta said it added about 1,000 seats to its service to the Carolinas ahead of Florence.

Charlotte airport said its staff on Wednesday checked emergency equipment and supplies like backup power and storm drains.

Airlines generally offer waivers and cancel flights ahead of time so travelers are not stranded at the airport and crews are not out of place when operations resume. They will also routinely keep aircraft away from affected airports.

Constant high wind of at least 41 mph can prevent Federal Aviation Administration staff from servicing radar and radio towers, so some systems could be shut down pre-emptively, the agency said.

Flight disruptions could continue after the storm has passed. The FAA said it could restrict air traffic, including passenger flights, to clear airspace for emergency flights.

Other companies with employees in evacuation zones shut down before the storm. Boeing, for example, said it flew some of its 787 wide-body jets from its factory in Charleston on Tuesday to Seattle to keep them out of the storm’s path. It also suspended operations in Charleston as staff were evacuated ahead of the the hurricane.

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