Caribbean flights and cruises have been cancelled as Hurricane Irma blows across the region towards Florida packing winds of up to 185mph.
Puerto Rico, a major flight transfer hub for the region, declared a state of emergency as Hurricane Irma was upgraded to the highest category five level just days after parts of Texas and Louisiana were hit by Hurricane Harvey.
Puerto Rico’s San Juan airport yesterday cancelled 85 flights, about 40% of services.
The Key West area in Florida has ordered a mandatory evacuation. Visitors will be required to leave this morning, with residents due to follow in the evening, and the international airport will halt all flights.
US president Donald Trump has declared a state of emergency for Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, mobilising federal disaster relief efforts for those areas.
The storm forced the closure of airports in Antigua and St Kitts today (Wednesday).
British Airways sent an empty aircraft to Antigua to bring travellers home early. The full flight of 326 passengers left the island early evening on Tuesday, UK time.
The airline cancelled a flight from Gatwick to Antigua and Tobago yesterday and today’s return service from Gatwick to Antigua and St Kitts.
“We are reviewing our operation across the rest of the region, and will continue to update this information,” BA said on its website.
“Hurricane Irma is predicted to hit a number of islands in the Caribbean in the coming days. We are in regular contact with all our airport partners in the region about the impact this will have on our customers planning to travel to and from the region.
“We are doing all we can to get our customers to their final destinations, and anyone booked to fly with us to Antigua, St Kitts, Punta Cana, Providentiales or Nassau before 10 September and who wishes to change their travel plans should contact us for a range of rebook options available to them.
“They can choose to travel to an alternative Caribbean destination or delay the flight to another date before 30 September.
“We are also providing rebook options for customers booked to fly with us to/from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, or Orlando between 8-11 September inclusive.
“We are keeping our flights to other Caribbean islands under review, and we are in regular contact with the airport authorities as the storm moves through the area.
“The safety and security of all our customers and colleagues is always our top priority.”
Virgin Atlantic brought forward its flight from Antigua to the UK by five hours.
A spokesman said the airline was monitoring the strength and direction of Hurricane Irma before changing more schedules.
“We may need to make some changes or cancellations,” he said, urging passengers to check with the airline before travelling.
The airline said on its website: “In view of the forecast weather conditions, customers booked to travel to, from and through Antigua from 5 September to 11 September 2017 who would like to change their travel dates, or travel to an alternative Virgin Atlantic destination, may do so without penalty.
“Rebooking is subject to availability and travel must be completed on or before 12 October 2017.”
Carnival Cruise Line last night cancelled two Caribbean departures and offered full refunds.
“We have been closely monitoring Hurricane Irma, which is now a category 5 storm in the Caribbean,” the cruise company said.
“Since the safety and security of our guests and crew are our primary concern, it will be necessary to cancel the following cruises given the projected path of the storm – Carnival Liberty – September 7; Carnival Victory – September 8.
“Thank you for your patience as we continue to work on our plans for our other sailings departing from Central and South Florida this weekend.”
Carnival plans to provide another update by 1pm today US local time.
Royal Caribbean International said: “Currently, no sailings in our fleet are impacted on their current or upcoming cruise due to Hurricane Irma, except for the September 3 sailing of Allure of the Seas.”
The line is closely monitoring the storm’s path and its potential impact to 12 departures between September 7 and 10 and is providing twice daily updates.
“Should we need to make an itinerary change to avoid the storm, we will reach out to our guests directly, as well as update our website and social media feeds,” the line said.
“Please know that the safety and comfort of our guests are our top priority and we will continue to provide regular updates throughout the week.”
Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice for the US was updated yesterday.
“Hurricane Irma is forecast to bring hazardous sea and weather conditions to Puerto Rico and north-eastern parts of the Caribbean from around Wednesday 6 September 2017, and to Florida from the evening of Friday 8 September 2017,” the FCO said.
“The authorities in Puerto Rico and Florida have declared a state of emergency. You should follow the advice of the local authorities and any evacuation orders.”
Disney Cruise Line has cancelled the September 9 sailing of Disney Fantasy as well as the September 8 and September 11 sailings of Disney Dream. Guests will get full refunds.
The September 2 sailing of Disney Fantasy is expected to return to Port Canaveral two days earlier than planned – on Thursday, September 7 and its September 4 Disney Dream cruise will return a day earlier than planned, also on Thursday, September 7. Both have had their itineraries modified. Guests will be refunded for the cancelled nights of their voyages and given a 25% discount on a future cruise.
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