How Hurricane Dorian is impacting travelers

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Grand Bahama International Airport in Freeport is submerged in water. Watch before and after video.

Posted: Sep 3, 2019 3:00 PM
Updated: Sep 3, 2019 3:00 PM

Hurricane Dorian, the strongest storm to hit the planet so far this year, has people in its path scrambling to get out of harm's way.

While devastating for residents in the affected communities, the hurricane also spells trouble for travelers in the Bahamas, as well as those visiting Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas in the United States.

Transport and travel

Videos show Grand Bahama International Airport in Freeport is submerged in water.

On Monday, Delta Air Lines canceled all flights to and from the Bahamas due to increased crosswind speeds, according to Delta spokeswoman Lisa Hellerstedt.

The airline made the decision after one of its planes was unable to land in Nassau on Monday, Hellerstedt said. Delta Flight 337 returned to Atlanta.

By Tuesday morning, more than 1,300 Tuesday flights within, into or out of the US had been canceled.

That follows more than 1,500 flights within, to and from the US that were canceled on Monday, with Fort Lauderdale in Florida the most impacted airport, according to the aviation tracking website FlightAware.com.

While it's worth bearing in mind these flights could be canceled for any reason, most are likely due to the disruption caused by the storm.

Carriers including Delta, American Airlines, Southwest, JetBlue, Spirit, United and Frontier are offering travelers the option to change or delay flight bookings within affected areas, with certain terms and conditions applying.

Passengers are not automatically entitled to assistance, however.

"As the flight disruption is caused by bad weather, this is considered to be 'force majeure' or an 'extraordinary circumstance' and airlines are therefore not liable to compensate passengers who experience a delay or cancellation," said Paloma Salmeron, a spokeswoman at air passenger rights organization AirHelp.com.

"However, if the delay exceeds five hours or if the flight is canceled, the air passenger is entitled to either a full or partial refund of their original ticket or a return flight to their point of departure if necessary."

"We advise passengers to keep hold of all travel documents and speak to their airline representative to see what they can offer."

Nassau Airport in Bahamas confirmed it's open Tuesday, but many flights have been canceled due to the storm.

In Florida, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, which suspended service Monday, said it will resume operations at noon ET on Tuesday.

Miami International remained open as of Tuesday morning, but the airport told travelers via Twitter to check their flight status before heading to the airport and to arrive early.

Orlando International Airport suspended service at 2 a.m. ET Tuesday, and Palm Beach International and Orlando Melbourne International airports suspended service Monday.

Charleston International Airport tweeted that it too will be closing. "The FAA tower will cease operations at 3 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday, 9/4)," the announcement reads. "At this time, all airport operations will be suspended. Depending on weather conditions, airport operations are expected to resume on Friday morning."

Cruise ships changing schedules

Cruise ship itineraries are also impacted.

Carnival Cruise Line has adjusted itineraries for numerous ships leaving out of Jacksonville, Port Canaveral, Miami and Charleston in preparation for Hurricane Dorian.

CocoCay Island, owned by Royal Caribbean, remained closed. It originally planned to reopen on Wednesday, but that's now been delayed and the hope is it'll be open by Saturday. The cruise line says alternative ports have been secured for sailings in the meantime and a team of experts will evaluate the damage this week.

Royal Caribbean says it is "closely monitoring" Dorian, shortening and extending some ship itineraries where necessary, although the company said that "being onboard a ship is one of safest places to be during a storm."

For non-cruise aficionados, that might seem hard to believe, but Brian Major, executive editor for Caribbean and Latin America at US content company travAlliancemedia, tells CNN Travel that's because cruise ships will always amend their itineraries to avoid sailing into a storm and ensuring the safety of passengers.

"The ships are very astute in making sure they avoid those storms," says Major. "It will impact some folks' vacations, which is the unfortunate part of it. But it's better than sailing towards a hurricane."

Major says cruisers should stay in contact with their cruise line and contact their travel agent if they think they won't be able to get to the port or if they're worried about port closures.

"These situations always bring to light the importance of travel insurance," he adds.

Major also notes that the Bahamas is the number one cruise destination in the world in terms of number of ships, and the potential impact is concerning.

"To see the number one cruise port threatened in this way is something to be concerned about and to keep an eye on."

Accommodation

Many hotels in the hurricane's path have been boarded up and travelers have been evacuated to temporary shelters.

Marriott International will "continue to monitor the path of Hurricane Dorian, and our hotels in the predicted path have implemented storm preparation protocols," the hotel announced in a statement.

Hilton issued a similarly worded statement, encouraging guests to call 1-800-HILTONS (800-774-1500) for up-to-date information on individual hotels.

Some hotels have posted plans on websites or pinned to their social media pages detailing when and if they're closing -- including the swanky The Sanctuary Hotel at Kiawah Island Golf Resort south of Charleston, South Carolina, which details plans to close Monday and reassess its status on Thursday.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, comprised of 10,000 restaurants and hotels across the Sunshine State, issued a statement urging members to waive cancellation fees, as well as "extending hospitality to pets by relaxing any pet restrictions they may have."

Other hotels outside the hurricane's path are operating as emergency shelters. Evacuees who can get to Statesboro, Georgia, can check out VisitStatesboro.org for information on hotel spaces currently available there.

Hotel relief effort

Chef Jose Andres told CNN that -- before the hurricane hit -- hotel owners in the Bahamas pledged to be part of the hotel relief effort, offering Andres' nonprofit World Central Kitchen the opportunity to use hotel kitchens to serve food to those in need.

The Atlantis Bahamas confirmed on Twitter on Tuesday that it's working with Andres, World Central Kitchen and the Bahamas Red Cross to provide relief to residents impacted by Dorian.

There will likely be further relief needed over the coming weeks: the American Red Cross says 19 million people live in areas across Florida, Georgia and South Carolina that could be impacted by the storm.

Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for some areas of coastal Georgia and South Carolina and communities along the Atlantic coast of Florida, with state government websites outlining shelters available and hurricane policies.

Those communities include Georgia's Golden Isles, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and other popular beach resorts that were hosting travelers over the Labor Day holiday weekend.

Disney storm preps, other parks

In Orlando, Walt Disney World Resort has adjusted its Tuesday hours at most locations due to the advancing storm. Some areas opened early and most parks will close by 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. ET. ESPN Wide World of Sports and Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park will be closed all day.

Full details about opening hours, hotels, dining reservations and other experiences that may be affected are posted online.

Universal Orlando Resorts announced that Universal Studios Florida, Universal's Islands of Adventure and Universal's CityWalk would open as scheduled on Tuesday, but that Universal's Volcano Bay Water Theme Park would be closed and Blue Man Group shows would be canceled.

SeaWorld Orlando and Legoland Florida theme park and water park said they will be closed Tuesday.

Disney Cruise Line employees on Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas, spent a few hours in the company's storm shelter on Monday as tropical storm strength winds swept through the island.

"Our Crew has returned to their living quarters," the company said in a Monday statement. "Our thoughts continue to be with the people in areas of The Bahamas that are being impacted by this storm and we stand ready to contribute to recovery efforts."

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