Airlines cancel hundreds of flights, cap fares ahead of Hurricane Florence

  • Hurricane Florence is expected to make landfall overnight Friday.
  • More than 500 flights have been canceled so far to states in Florence's path.
  • Airlines are waiving date-change, baggage and pet fees.
Two Delta Connection Bombardier CRJ-900LR commercial jets at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina. 
Robert Alexander | Archive Photos | Getty Images
Two Delta Connection Bombardier CRJ-900LR commercial jets at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Airlines have canceled hundreds of flights and added more service to get travelers out of areas that could be affected by Hurricane Florence.

The Category 3 storm is expected to make landfall in North Carolina and South Carolina early Friday, but the storm will affect several states with high winds and widespread flooding, federal forecasters said.

Southwest Airlines said Wednesday that it plans to suspend operations out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Thursday through at least Friday night.

So far, airlines have canceled more than 450 flights scheduled for Thursday in or out of Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Charleston International Airport and Myrtle Beach International Airport, according to FlightAware.com, a flight-tracking site. Scores of other flights scheduled for Friday in the area were also canceled and more are likely.

Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, United Airlines and American Airlines said they capped some airfares at levels below what last-minute tickets would cost. They are also are waiving change fees, baggage and in-cabin pet fees for travelers who could be affected by the storm. Delta said added about 1,000 seats to its service to the Carolinas ahead of Florence.

Airport staff in Charlotte, American's second-largest hub, is checking emergency equipment and supplies like backup power, storm drains, and items for passengers who may be stranded.

Airlines generally offer waivers and cancel flights ahead of time so travelers are not stranded at the airport and crews are not out of place when operations resume. They will also routinely keep aircraft away from affected airports.

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 pre-emptively, the agency said.

Flight disruptions could continue after the storm has passed. The FAA said it could restrict air traffic, including passenger flights, to clear airspace for emergency flights.

Other companies with employees in evacuation zones were also preparing for the storm. Boeing Co., for example, said it flew some of its 787 widebody jets from its factory in Charleston on Tuesday to Seattle to keep them out of the storm's path and suspended operations there.

WATCH: The latest on Hurricane Florence's path