Travel Through the Storm
Travel Tips When Traveling During Hurricane Season Based on Real Life Stories from America’s Travel Leaders
When massive hurricanes – such as Harvey, Irma and Maria – hit, the impact can be far-reaching, even affecting those who are not in the path of the storm. With hurricane season continuing through the end of November, travel agents with Travel Leaders – America’s largest retail travel agency brand with thousands of travel agents across the United States – offer advice on how best to travel and stay safe during hurricane season. These real life stories from Travel Leaders travel agents and their clients show how travel agents helped consumers navigate to their final destination during both Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
“The six-month hurricane season affects the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico more severely between August and October. Our Travel Leaders travel agents are trained and available to assist consumers who may be impacted during this time,” said Roger E. Block, CTC, President of Travel Leaders Network. “A top priority for our travel agencies in situations such as these, is proactively moving clients and their families out of harm’s way, from arranging shelter or transportation, and doing so with a sympathetic ear and calming voice.”
Follow the evacuation directions of local authorities. If the city is recommending that you leave town, plan to do so as quickly as possible in advance of the storm rather than the day the storm is due to make landfall. “We had corporate travelers who live in the Miami area contact us to assist them, their family members, and even a friend or two in finding flights out of the area before the hurricane was supposed to hit,” said Holly Kahl of Travel Leaders in Raleigh, NC. “Flights from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach were all sold out, so we had one agent dedicated to monitoring flights constantly and grabbing an available seat here or there whenever one might pop up. One traveler was willing to fly anywhere, just to get out! Within a few hours we were able to get them all out ahead of the storm.”
Feel secure knowing that the travel industry is working on your behalf. “During Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, our airlines relations team at Travel Leaders worked closely with airline partners from American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines to reserve seats on flights and provide real-time information,” said Peter Vlitas, Senior Vice President of Airline Relations for Travel Leaders Group. “Specifically, during Irma, our airlines team sent more than 100 messages to more than 6,500 travel agencies within Travel Leaders Network, providing them with up-to-the-minute information about airports and flight status.”
Drive to neighboring destination in advance of storm. If you can rent a car or hop a ride to a neighboring state or city that is not near the eye of the storm, you may be able to catch a flight there, and without additional cost. Travel agents are updated immediately of any waivers and cancellations that airlines may be offering to impacted travelers. A few hours wait may mean the difference between a hefty fee for changing travel plans, versus a fee waiver. That was the advice Rey Alton, a Travel Leaders agent in Houston, Texas, gave his client.
“A client had an anniversary trip to Spain planned, leaving Houston at the time of Hurricane Harvey. They didn’t want to cancel, so they decided to leave early before one drop of rain came. I told them that to change the flight it would cost $6,500, but if they drove to Dallas and waited, the airlines would probably change its policy,” said Alton. “My clients waited 48 hours, and sure enough, Delta issued a travel waiver and they were able to depart from Dallas instead of Houston, at no cost.”
Shelter in place at a hotel. If your flight is canceled and you can’t get another flight, it is best to stay at a hotel that is inland, away from the beach. Hotel staff may direct you to interior rooms, shelter areas or stairwells if the storm is directly in your area.
“My client, her mother and 4-year-old son all traveled to Disney World for a week from Pittsburgh on Sept. 3. They were scheduled to return on a 7 p.m. flight from Orlando to Pittsburgh on Sept. 9, however the airport closed down at 5 p.m.,” said Anna Aey, a Travel Leaders agent in Boardman, Ohio. “We looked into the possibility of traveling to other airports further north, renting a car to travel home, going to the airport to try to fly standby from Orlando. In the end, I encouraged them to stay put. I stayed in contact with my client all weekend as flight after flight was cancelled. I eventually was able to book them on a flight into Pittsburgh after the storm.”
Upcoming flights impacted by the storm. Travel Leaders travel agents also assisted clients who may have had plans to travel to or near the impacted areas during or right after the storm. “We rebooked several flights for travelers heading to the affected areas, but one of the biggest things we’ve been doing is staying in constant contact with travelers who have Florida or Caribbean packages or cruises booked for later this year,” said Amy Eben, a Travel Leaders travel agent in Sioux Center, Iowa. “We wanted to assure all clients that we are monitoring the situation and have their best interests in mind. As additional details come out, we notify travelers of any hotel/resort issues that may affect their vacation….even if it is scheduled for two months down the road.”
Keep your mobile phone charged. Staying in touch with loved ones and your travel agent is important to one’s travel planning during a hurricane. A Tempe, AZ-based, Travel Leaders agent, Chris Davidson, arranged for her clients to receive a 25 percent discount on a satellite phone, which would work during hurricanes even when cell towers are not available.
Kellie Bishop, a travel agent with Travel Leaders in Charlottesville, VA, often stays in touch with her clients via text messages. The Saturday of Hurricane Irma she received a text message from a long-time client whose daughter, son-in-law and infant grandson were on a ferry boat in Puerto Rico after evacuating St. John. “Through a series of text messages and brief phone calls, I learned they had attempted flights to D.C., Charlotte, Boston and other destinations, to no avail. I was able to ticket her daughter and the two-month-old son on the one seat left on a nonstop United Airlines flight. The father was able to join them a couple of days later.”
Use travel insurance with “trip cancellation” options. Not all travel insurance policies are the same, but some allow you to cancel a trip for any reason and provide a full refund of what may have otherwise been non-refundable expenses. “We had a couple who could not leave Fort Meyers in time to make their extended vacation in Europe, which included a motor bike tour around the Alps. Because they had travel insurance they were fully reimbursed for their European tours, which saved them nearly $10,000,” said Kurt Crowl of Travel Leaders in West Palm Beach. “Another couple with plans to head to China not long after Hurricane Irma, also was fully reimbursed after they canceled in order to tend to storm-impacted properties they own in West Palm Beach and North Carolina. The ‘cancel-for-any-reason’ insurance is useful for any unknown circumstance that may affect travel plans.”
Travel agents save the day even for those at home. Some customers know they can rely on their travel agents in a pinch. Houston-based Travel Leaders agent Michelle Weller received a call from a client in Dallas who had an aunt trapped in her house outside of Beaumont, Texas, one of the affected areas during Hurricane Harvey. The aunt used an oxygen tank. “I got in touch with the Cajun Navy to send out a rescue boat to her home,” said Weller. “As travel agents, we like to help people. We are good caretakers. People needed an anchor in the storm and all of us were there to help.”
Travel agents are a traveler’s proactive guide. “The main thing we try to do is be proactive when there are natural disasters or other emergency situations,” said Terry Denton of Travel Leaders in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “We figure out who is or even might be impacted and reach out to them with a reassuring voice and a suggested course of action. We’d rather reach out to them to tend to their travel needs than wait for them to call us with a frantic voice.”