Airlines waive change fees as Hurricane Florence threatens to snarl travel

Key Points
  • Hurricane Florence is a Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 130 miles per hour.
  • Airlines routinely cancel flights ahead of large storms to avoid stranding passengers, crews and planes.
  • Delta, American, United, Southwest say they will waive change fees or fare differences.
American Airlines ground crew members service commercial aircraft landing and arriving at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina. 
Robert Alexander | Archive Photos | Getty Images

Airlines are allowing passengers to change their travel plans as Hurricane Florence spins closer to the U.S. East Coast.

Hurricane Florence, currently a Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 130 miles per hour, could hit the southeastern U.S. or mid-Atlantic region by the end of the week, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Constant high winds of at least 36 knots, about 41 miles per hour, can prevent Federal Aviation Administration staff from servicing radars and radio towers, so some systems could be shut down preemptively, the agency said.

American Airlines said travelers whose plans could be affected by the storm can change their travel dates without paying change fees, which can cost $200 plus a difference in fare, if they can travel between Sept. 10 and Sept. 19.

The waivers for Hurricane Florence cover 23 airports, including Charlotte Douglas Airport, American's second-largest hub, where it has about 670 flights a day. So far, American Airlines flights have not been canceled due to the storm, the carrier said.

Hurricane Florence is getting stronger

Delta Air Lines said it will cap airfares in several airports that could be affected by the storm and that it won't charge change fees for travelers booked to and from those destinations. United Airlines said it will waive date-change fees as well as fare differences for travelers booked to or from 16 area airports if they can fly between Sept. 10 and Sept. 16.

Southwest Airlines said travelers booked into six cities in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia can rebook their flights within 14 days of their original dates with no additional cost. Southwest does not charge a fee to change travel dates but it usually will charge passengers the difference in fare.

While the storm is not expected to make landfall until the end of the week, airlines regularly issue waivers early to avoid travelers getting stuck at the airport.

During big storms, they try to cancel flights ahead of time so crews are not out of place when operations resume. They will also routinely keep aircraft away from affected airports.

"We want to obviously keep our most important assets away from inclement weather," said American Airlines' spokesman Ross Feinstein.

American Airlines is also extending change-fee waivers for travelers traveling to or from 14 airports in the Caribbean ahead of Hurricane Isaac. That storm, currently a Category 1 hurricane, is expected to move eastward, south of Puerto Rico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic by Friday, according to NOAA.