As Hurricane Florence gathers momentum as a Category 4 threat slated to hit the southeast coast later this week, airlines are responding to accommodate passengers frantically trying to alter their travel plans.
American Airlines was quick to announce on Monday it would help customers in the southeastern part of the country as well as the mid-Atlantic region wanting to get out of Florence's path by waiving change fees. Normally in the case of a flight change, the fee is $200 as well as the difference in fare cost between the original and new destination. While the hurricane has yet to affect the scheduling of flights, the change waiver affects more than 23 airports in the area.
Southwest Airlines also jumped into the fray by announcing incentives for passengers with flights involving six major cities in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. Customers will be allowed to change their itinerary within two weeks of the date of their original flights with no change fee attached, although differences in fares will be taken into account.
The change became effective immediately until Sept. 19, presumably around the same time Florence's fury eventually dies down. That might take a few days, as Florence has been building up strength the closer it gets to the eastern seaboard. The latest report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has pegged wind speeds clocking in at 130 mph.
No strangers to hurricanes and tropical storms, airlines usually follow a protocol of cancelling flights early and rerouting other flights away from affected regions to allow for time to reschedule its crew and mitigate other interruptions caused by hazardous weather. They also encourage passengers to take advantage of waiver programs as early as possible to reduce customers stranded at airports.
Hurricane Florence also runs the risk of being unpredictable. Early on Monday, NOAA upgraded the storm to a Category 3. Hours later, the service revised Florence's status to Category 4. Its current path is slated to hit Wilmington, North Carolina before the weekend and predictions are that the storm will be upgraded to a Category 5 in a couple days. Currently unknown is how strong Florence will be once it reaches landfall.