After bringing strong winds and flooding to Cuba as a tropical storm, Idalia became a Category 1 hurricane early Tuesday morning, fueled by unusually warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico. The storm is expected to intensify to at least Category 3 status before making landfall in Florida on Wednesday.
The U.S. air travel system is preparing for the hit, with nearly 500 flights in and out of Tampa International Airport preemptively cancelled for Tuesday and Wednesday, according to FlightAware, a free app that provides flight tracking data. But based on an historical trend analysis, more cancellations will come closer to departure times.
The hurricane is also expected to bring dangerous storm surges of up to 12 feet along the state’s Gulf Coast, with Tampa Bay expecting surges of up to 7 feet.
As of Tuesday at 7 a.m., Florida’s airports were responding individually. Tampa International Airport has been closed since a minute after midnight on Tuesday; St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport says it will close for 24 hours beginning Tuesday at 3 p.m.; and Sarasota Bradenton International Airport is open but urging passengers to contact their airline for flight updates.
Major U.S. airlines are issuing travel waivers allowing passengers flying in or out of impacted airports to rebook without paying the fare difference. For consumers looking to change travel plans or recoup travel expenses, much will depend upon the airline, itinerary and, in some cases, whether a travel insurance policy was purchased.
For example, American Airlines has issued a travel alert impacting 12 airports in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Passengers who bought a plane ticket before August 28 for a flight traveling through Thursday, August 31, to, from or through any of the listed airports may rebook without a change fee for travel through Monday, September 4.
As a point of comparison, Delta Air Lines’ travel alert covers 17 airports in the Southeast. Passengers who booked their tickets before August 28 and were supposed to travel through Thursday, August 31, may change their flight for free if the rebooked flight departs no later than September 3.
United Airlines, meanwhile, has its own travel alert for customers booked on flights to or from nine airports. Travelers who booked their original tickets by August 27 for travel August 28-31, can rebook for travel by September 4.