As Hurricane Ian closed in on Florida on Wednesday, air travel is not a viable option for evacuation. More than 3,500 flights were canceled during the storm's approach according to a report by Forbes. Residents won't be able to leave the area by air until at least Friday.
Hurricane Ian strengthened to a Category 4 hurricane in the early hours of Wednesday morning, and it may well reach Category 5 before it even makes landfall. It will be the first hurricane to hit the gulf coast of Florida in about a century, meaning that the communities may not be as well-prepared for it as their counterparts on the other side of the peninsula. As the whole area battened down the hatches, flights from five local airports were canceled en masse.
HURRICANE IAN LATEST: Nearly 2,000 flights cancelled as winds near Category 5 as storm approaches Florida. https://t.co/DxcZ65tsCc— ABC News (@ABC) September 28, 2022
At least 800 flights were canceled in southwest Florida itself this weekend, while the rest of the cancellations were flights that were scheduled to land in the area. Most were scheduled on the east coast of the U.S. Aviation experts warned that there would probably be more cancellations and disruptions as Florida scrambles to recover from this impact.
"There will be few air travelers not affected one way or the other by Ian this week, especially if strong or long-lasting storms and heavy rain impact Atlanta or other major airports," FlightAware spokesperson Kathleen Bangs told Forbes. "There's a strong chance we're still looking down the barrel for high delays and cancellations as Ian begins to directly impact the U.S."
Airlines are handling these extenuating circumstances in a variety of ways. Some are reportedly issuing travel waivers that will allow passengers to rebook their flights without paying the difference in fares, especially if they're coming or going from an airport that will be directly impacted by the storm. However, each airline has different criteria for these kinds of waivers, so travelers should read the terms carefully before making any plans.
At the time of this writing, Hurricane Ian is approaching Naples, Florida and is expected to make landfall around Wednesday evening. Meteorologists are warning of wind speeds over 150 miles per hour and storm surges up to 18 feet tall. Evacuation orders have been issued in many of the coastal communities. The entire state of Florida is officially under a state of emergency.