TORONTO — Tour operators, airlines and cruise lines are racing to get travellers out of Hurricane Irma’s path as it roars up the northeastern Caribbean with wind speeds clocking in at 297 kilometres per hour, making it the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever recorded.
Irma is bearing down on the northeast Caribbean, following a path predicted to rake Puerto Rico, the D.R., Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida.
Air Transat has launched an evacuation operation to get all its travellers out of the D.R. by sending a total of 10 aircraft: 7 to Punta Cana, 2 to Puerto Plata and 1 to Samana. All aircraft were scheduled arrive in the D.R. this morning and passengers should be back in Canada this afternoon or early evening, says the airline.
Transat has also implemented its hurricane policy for flights scheduled until Sept. 11 for the following destinations: D.R. (Puerto Plata, Punta Cana, Samana, La Romana); Cuba (Varadero, Cayo Coco, Santa Clara, Holguin); and Haiti (Port au Prince).
Air Transat also said its scheduled flights on Thursday to Punta Cana departing from Toronto and Montreal have been cancelled. The airline said it would contact affected customers and offer them travel at a later date, travel to another destination subject to conditions, or cancellation with a full refund excluding travel insurance costs.
Regular updates will be posted on the company’s websites.
Meanwhile Sunwing has cancelled all flights into St Maarten/St Martin and the D.R. until after Sept. 7 and is also keeping an eye on Cuba. Sunwing has invoked its hurricane policy for all affected destinations, giving customers scheduled to travel Sept. 6 – 10 inclusive the option to change destination or rebook for travel at a later date.
Sunwing’s flights out of St Maarten, originally scheduled for Sept. 7, into Toronto and Montreal were brought forward and operated Sept. 5, bringing passengers home early. The company also added two unscheduled flights for today, Sept. 6, to bring customers home early from Puerto Plata and Punta Cana.
All new Sunwing flight times will be posted at sunwing.ca/arrdepinfo.asp as they become available. “We regret that this extreme weather event has disrupted our customers’ vacation plans and are currently reviewing options for compensation on a case by case basis.”
Air Canada and WestJet have also sent planes to the Caribbean to bring passengers home. WestJet has so far sent 5 planes to the Caribbean, according to reports: 3 to Punta Cana, 1 to Puerto Plata and 1 to Turks & Caicos.
Cruise lines are also on high alert, diverting some itineraries due to the storm and cancelling others outright. Here’s a look at the latest updates from the major cruise lines:
Royal Caribbean says the cruise fare and fees will be 100% refunded to the original form of payment. The cruise line is also offering a 25% future cruise credit, based on the cruise fare, if a new cruise is booked in the next 30 days.
The following Royal Caribbean cruises are so far departing as scheduled: Adventure of the Seas: September 9 Southern Caribbean cruise; Grandeur of the Seas: September 7 New England/Canada cruise; Liberty of the Seas: September 10 Western Caribbean cruise; Serenade of the Seas: September 10 New England/Canada cruise; Vision of the Seas: September 7 New England/Canada cruise.
Several itineraries have also been altered due to the hurricane. See royalcaribbean.com. Royal Caribbean is providing updates on any impacted sailings no later than 2 days in advance of departure.
Royal Caribbean also says it will delay the return of Oasis, Harmony and Allure of the Seas until the storm has passed. “Due to the unpredictability of the storm, we plan to keep all of our guests currently sailing on these ships safely out of harm’s way.”
With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press