Hurricane Harvey hit and battered much of Houston on Aug. 25, and now Hurricane Irma, which is considered to be the most powerful Atlantic storm ever recorded, struck the Caribbean island of Barbuda early Wednesday morning and is expected to reach Puerto Rico and other islands later in the day or this evening. The tropical storm Jose currently trails behind Irma, and early Wednesday, a fourth tropical storm, Katia, was strengthening in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico.
These storms raise the question of what travelers should do if they are scheduled to travel to a destination in the path of a storm. And what should they do if they’re in a destination where a storm is imminent or has already made landfall, and how should they stay safe while there?
Here, answers to storm-related travel questions.
What about if I’m in a destination and a storm is about to hit?
Act quickly to leave town, says Tim Horner, a senior managing director at the New York-based security company Kroll and an expert on staying safe during a natural disaster. “Your first line of defense should be to evacuate if you can and follow the evacuation directions of the local authorities,” he said.
If you’re flying, call your airline to get a seat on the next available flight. If no seats are available or if the flight isn’t until the next day, consider buying a one-way ticket back home on another airline. Mr. Horner emphasized that it’s important to take action to leave the area in the days before a storm is predicted to hit and not the day of; otherwise, chances are that you’ll get caught at the start of the storm, which means your outbound flight will be canceled.
Also, before you leave your hotel to head to the airport, ask if it’s possible to return in case your flight is canceled — you want to avoid relying on the airport as a shelter, if you can.
Additional tips: Stock up on a flashlight with extra batteries, blankets and plenty of water and food. Properties in hurricane-prone areas often provide these items to their guests in the event of a storm, according to Christine Sarkis, the deputy executive editor of the online travel magazine SmarterTravel, but if that’s not the case, you can buy them at a local grocery or supply store.
And if you’re staying at a hotel on the beach, Mr. Horner advised finding alternative accommodations at a property inland because the chances of flooding are greater along the water.
I’m stranded in a destination where a storm has hit. Now what?
Mr. Horner said that it’s critical to let your family members and friends at home as well as your employer know where you are and stay in constant communication with them throughout the storm. “People tend to get displaced during a storm,” he said. An anecdote from his career reflects the importance of this advice: when Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans, Mr. Horner was hired by a company to find 260 of its employees, who were in the city but could not be located. “Nobody knew where they were,” he said. (They were all ultimately found and safe.)
Also, be sure to keep your cellphone charged. Mr. Horner recommended always traveling with a few portable power chargers or power packs, which need to be pre-charged but don’t need a wall outlet to work.
Other advice: have your bags packed so that you’re ready to move at a moment’s notice. Ms. Sarkis’s close friend got stuck at his hotel in Cabo San Lucas when Hurricane Odell hit in 2014 and had to move quickly to another part of the property because the storm blew out the glass doors leading to his balcony.
And in the midst of preparing the necessities, don’t forget to plan for some leisure activities. Books, board games and cards all do the trick. “Being occupied with something fun can help keep you calm when a storm is happening and will make the time go by faster,” Ms. Sarkis said.
What should I do if I have an imminent trip planned to a destination in the path of a storm?
Call your airline and hotel immediately, Ms. Sarkis says. “If you haven’t yet left for your trip but see that a hurricane is predicted to where you’re going, it’s essential to call your hotel and airline right away to determine their rebooking and cancellation policies,” she said.
According to Ms. Sarkis, airlines flying to a destination where a storm is predicted will often have travel alerts on their websites indicating the instances in which travelers can rebook their tickets without paying change fees and how long they have to do so (American Airlines, for example, has an alert on its site related to Hurricane Irma). However, if your trip looks unlikely to happen at all — say because your hotel has severe damage from the storm — Ms. Sarkis advised working with your airline (a phone call with a live person is best) to explore alternative destinations. Instead of that trip to Puerto Rico, for example, you may consider a trip to Southern California or to another warm-weather destination.
When it comes to your hotel, keep in mind that many properties in hurricane-prone destinations know that a hurricane could strike in the summer and early fall and tend to be pretty flexible when it comes to offering refunds or rebooking for a future stay, potentially even if that stay is six months or more down the line. “Hotels situated in hurricane zones are used to guests changing or canceling their trips when a storm is predicted to hit,” Ms. Sarkis said.
I bought travel insurance before my trip to a storm affected destination. How do I use my policy?
Stan Sandberg, the co-founder of the trip insurance comparison site TravelInsurance.com, said that if you’ve already purchased a travel insurance policy and are at a destination or scheduled to depart to a destination affected by a storm, you may have coverage to end your trip early or outright cancel your trip. The majority of travel insurance plans with trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage will reimburse your pre-paid, non-refundable expenses lost as a result of canceling a trip or ending a trip prematurely due to severe weather. “You should contact your travel insurance issuer to confirm your coverage,” Mr. Sandberg said. Other reasons to cancel or end your trip early include mandatory evacuation at your destination and if your destination becomes uninhabitable due to natural disasters. Just remember, said Mr. Sandberg, once a storm is named, you can no longer purchase travel insurance to protect against that storm.
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