More than 1,645 flights were cancelled in the USA ahead of Hurricane Florence making landfall on the southeastern coast of the U.S. While that number is staggering in itself, the flight delays are exponentially higher – 20,000+, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware.
At my company, Ovation Travel Group, it is our job to help people travel as seamlessly as possible. Safety is always the top priority, and we know firsthand what it means to help travelers whose plans have been disrupted by hurricanes. In terms of Hurricane Florence, over 3,000 Ovation passengers (so far) have had their travel plans affected, either by way of delays, changes or cancellations.
We’ve been continuously running reports to identify those whose travel is or will likely be affected. And we are proactively reaching out to travelers for whom we anticipate travel problems, in advance of cancellations, giving them a forewarning that we expect their trips will be affected, potentially even cancelled, and allowing them to rebook preemptively, at no added cost as many airlines have extended change waivers for the storm. We’ve also extended our normal business hours through Sunday (adding staff to handle the increase in call volume, opening earlier, closing later and operating during the weekend), in addition to our standard 24/7/365 service. All of this to assist travelers as Florence progresses, as we know what to do when a weather emergency occurs. Here’s what we want you to know about travel and hurricanes:
1. Monitor the Storm.
When you hear meteorologists refer to the category of the hurricane (1-5), those categories are defined by the hurricane’s sustained wind speed. Hurricanes are the most violent storms on earth and they can be unpredictable, changing paths and speed of movement. In the last 24 hours, Florence has been downgraded to a category 2 storm and also shifted farther south and west from its previously predicted path. Maximum sustained winds are currently at 110 mph and landfall is expected between the border of North and South Carolina tomorrow afternoon; the outer bands of the storm are approaching coastal areas now.
2. Understand Potential Dangers.
Even though Florence has been downgraded from its peak of a category 4 storm, the National Weather service has warned it “will bring life threatening storm surge, flash flooding, and destructive winds.” It is also larger in size and slower than previously predicted and will remain inland through Saturday at least. Concerns not only include initial flooding and surges up to 13 feet, but also secondary flooding days into the storm, with rain totals expected at up to 30 inches. Even if not directly hit, millions can still be impacted. Duke Energy estimates that up to 3 million people can lose power in the Carolinas due to Florence, and that restoration could take weeks.
3. Listen to the Authorities.
If you are told to evacuate by authorities, do so. Evacuations have been underway in the Carolinas for days now. When this happens, authorities often change traffic patterns on highways for easier access, but there usually comes a point when major highways close as well for safety reasons. Watch local news and listen to the radio. Download a weather app and sign up for alerts. If your travel company offers a travel app, download it, you’ll get weather updates, real time trip alerts with itinerary updates and in-app access to contact your travel consultant from the road in the unfortunate event that you need to do so.
4. Consider All Transportation Options.
If possible, see if your airline can change your trip to get you on an early flight out, or consider simply buying a one-way ticket on another airline. In terms of Hurricane Florence, over 10 airlines have waived change fees in order to get more people to safety. Trains can also be a good option, as can renting a car. You may need to exercise creativity; if you can only find a flight that will get you part-way home, for example, perhaps renting a car to get you that last leg is a good option. Again, you need to monitor the news to get updates; Amtrak has shut down operations in areas surrounding Florence’s projected path and travel alerts are in effect for over 20 local airports.
5. Risk Management.
At Ovation, we have a contingency plan specifically designed for rapid response whenever there is a significant travel disruption or situation that may cause an increase in call volume, so that we can assist whoever is in need as efficiently as possible. In fact, that plan is in effect now. The contingency plan ensures our team is prepared well before any disruption occurs… and you should have one, too. Make sure people have copies of your itinerary and important phone numbers, and electronic access to copies of your passport or other important documents.
6. Prepare for the Unknown.
The bottom line is that no one knows how much rain will fall and how ensuing flooding may cause prolonged damage to airport runways, highways, residential streets and, of course, power and infrastructure. So…do what you can in terms of preparations. If you know you will be in a storm’s path, stock up on things like food, water, batteries, flashlights and medication. Charge what devices you can, while you can. And keep a bag packed. If you do need to leave your location quickly, not only do you increase your chances of staying safe, but you are also less likely to forget anything important.
7. Hurricane Help.
Whatever the aftermath may be, know that there are multiple organizations and businesses standing by, ready to offer assistance. Airports, airlines and hotels have a lot of experience dealing with weather events. Don’t be afraid to call an airline representative; chances are they may already be enacting procedures to assist customers. If you are staying at a hotel, particularly if you are in an area prone to hurricanes, chances are they will be stocked up on things like food, water and generators, in case of a power outage. On that note, Duke Energy, for example, has over 20,000 people in place to restore power in the aftermath of Florence, if needed.
8. Kindness is Everything.
And finally, as always, areas that have been devastated by hurricanes need a lot of time and help to recover. Here are some organizations where you can donate to help victims: Red Cross, Unicef, Catholic Relief Services, One America Appeal and Global Giving.