Irene wreaks havoc, makes beeline for US

    Flight cancellations can be expected


    Travel agents are on alert to reroute flights to and from Cayman as Hurricane Irene continues to develop in force. 

    “We are sitting on ‘G’, waiting to ‘O’,” said Steve Pillar, office manager at Cayman company Travel Pros. 

    “BA flight 253 was on its way and due to land [Tuesday] but after that we have no idea and have to scramble to get everybody re-protected as best as we can.” 

    Mr. Pillar said if Miami International Airport remained open then it would be possible to re-route passengers through that hub.  

    “We work closely with Cayman Airways and are always in touch backwards and forwards with them to discuss.” 

    Emergency officials from Florida to the Carolinas were closely watching Irene Tuesday as the first hurricane to seriously threaten the US in three years churned over energising tropical waters. The storm has already cut a destructive path through the Caribbean. 

    Forecasters say the hurricane could grow to a monstrous Category 4 storm with winds of more than 131 mph before it’s predicted to come ashore this weekend on the US mainland. The US National Hurricane Center in Miami expected Irene to reach Category 3 strength by Wednesday morning, said spokesman Dennis Feltgen. 

    At press time, the first Atlantic hurricane of the season had maximum sustained winds early Tuesday around 100 mph and was centred about 55 miles south of Grand Turk Island. The hurricane was moving west-northwest near 12 mph.  

    Irene was forecast to pass over or near the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas by Tuesday night, be near the central Bahamas early Wednesday as a major hurricane and near or over the northwestern Bahamas on Thursday. 

    Some airlines including the national carrier have issued their policy to cover the current situation.  

    Cayman Airways passengers who were booked during the period of 22nd to 27th August could change their travel plans without penalty, for tickets issued no later than 21 August. A voucher will be issued for those who do not have alternate travel dates. 

    American Airlines has issued a Travel Notice Exception Advisory, which waives change fees for tickets for travel between 22 and 26 August, issued before 22nd August. 

    “If customers are unable to re-book or re-issue their ticket within the given timeline, they can cancel their reservation and use the value of the ticket toward the purchase of a new ticket; all rules and restrictions apply,” read the company policy statement. 

    “Travel must commence no later than one year from the date of original issuance. Please note for tickets reissued after August 28th, 2011, Change fee will apply.” 



    BA flights cancelled Wednesday 

    British Airways has confirmed that its flights originally
    scheduled for Wednesday, 24 August to and from Grand Cayman will not operate.

    “Due to the impending arrival of Hurricane Irene in the
    Bahamas flights BA253 from London and Nassau and BA252 to Nassau and London of
    the 24th of August have been cancelled,” said Adrian Barton, district manager
    Bahamas, Cayman Islands and Turks & Caicos Islands.

    “It is expected that BA flights on [Friday]  26th
    August will operate normally. There are no BA flights scheduled to operate
    to/from Cayman on Thursday, 25th August.

    “The standard commercial policy applies. Affected customers
    should contact BA at 1-800-247-9297
    or visit their travel agent.”

    National carrier Cayman Airways told the Compass that due to
    the storm’s track veering away from Florida there were no expected
    weather-related schedule changes as of 4.30pm Tuesday.


    Bahamas check in 

    According to latest information received on deadline from the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, Nassau’s Lynden Pindling International Airport is scheduled to close on Wednesday, 24 August.  

    Irene slashed directly across Puerto Rico, tearing up trees and knocking out power to more than a million people. It then headed out to sea, north of the Dominican Republic, where the powerful storm’s outer bands were buffeting the north coast with dangerous sea surge and downpours. President Barack Obama declared an emergency for Puerto Rico, making it eligible for federal help. 

    At least hundreds were displaced by flooding in the Dominican Republic, forced to take refuge in churches, schools or relatives’ homes. Electricity also was cut in some areas. 


    Available options  

    Should Irene force cancellations, Mr. Pillar said, there were several options available to travel agents and passengers. 

    “We can also route through Kingston and Havana. But we had a situation yesterday where Port of Spain [Trinidad] was closed due to the curfew down there. Flights could not get in yesterday afternoon to turn around and leave this morning so that was another thing we had to deal with.” 

    Miami is an important hub for the travel sector, he added, so the industry is crossing its fingers that the hurricane remains to the east. Partly due to reduced summer schedules, finding places to potentially re-route passengers can present a challenge, Mr. Pillar said. 

    “It is always more difficult when flights are full. It seems that at the peak travel times we always get something – the children are all going back to school, it’s the end of vacations in Europe, people are leaving the US to get back to Europe. And it can be difficult to get seats from Cayman to Kingston because children are going back home. It’s a matter of finding seats. We know what to do but it is a matter of getting it done,” Mr. Pillar said. He added that the travel industry is constantly monitoring weather, particularly during hurricane season. 

    “It is always a different scenario every year and you cannot know what is going to happen, until it happens.” 

    Check for up to the minute updates as we receive more information on airport closures and flight news. 


    The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

    Hurricane Irene-Bill

    Director at the National Hurricane Center Bill Read reviews the track and intensity of Hurricane Irene on Tuesday, 23 August, in Miami. – Photo: AP


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