TORONTO — Florida’s largest airports have reopened but operations are limited and hundreds of flights were cancelled or delayed as the state recovers from Hurricane Irma, with wide swaths of the state and its neighbours still without power. Meanwhile airlines including Air Canada, WestJet, Transat and Sunwing have updated their start dates for flights into Irma-damaged Cuba and other Caribbean destinations.
Hurricane Irma’s march across Florida and into the Southeast triggered one of the bigger blackouts in U.S. history, plunging as many as 13 million people into the dark as the storm dragged down power lines and blew out transformers.
“Power, power, power,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said. “The biggest thing we’ve got to do for people is get their power back.”
As reported on Travelweek.ca, Air Canada is resuming flights to Florida airports today. Air Canada is looking to operate its full schedule to Florida including service to Miami, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa, plus the next regularly scheduled flights to Fort Myers on Sept. 15, and Sarasota on Sept. 16. “Customers are advised that aircraft are very full on outgoing flights from Florida and, while Air Canada is adding additional capacity, space may be limited initially. However, Air Canada is committed to add extra capacity in order to transport customers who wish to travel.”
Air Canada and Air Canada Rouge have also resumed all scheduled service to the Caribbean including Havana, however other destinations in Cuba remain cancelled with plans to resume services to Holguin and Varadero in the coming days, says Air Canada, subject to the safety and security of airports and infrastructure. The airports serving Cayo Coco and Santa Clara are closed until at least Sept. 25.
Meanwhile WestJet has made the decision to remove regularly scheduled flights to and from Cayo Coco (CCC), Santa Clara (SNU) and St. Maarten (SXM) through Oct. 31, as local airports and hotels have suffered significant damage from the storm. The airline says it is in the process of reaching out to passengers and travel agents with bookings between now and then (Oct. 29) for re-bookings. Passengers booked for travel through Dec. 31 will be offered flexible change/cancel for these destinations.
WestJet says it is still evaluating flights into Providencials (PLS), Varadero (VRA), Myrtle Beach (MYR), and all of WestJet’s Florida destinations including Orlando (MCO), Miami (MIA), Fort Lauderdale (FLL) and Tampa (TPA), to ensure the airport, runway and hotel infrastructure are intact and safe and the destinations have the ability to service its passengers.
Guests booked to any of these areas will be offered flexible change/cancel for travel through Sept. 30.
WestJet is back to normal operations for airport and hotels in Bahamas (NAS), Bermuda (BGI), Aruba (AUA), Antigua (ANU), Grand Cayman (GCM), Dominican Republic (AZS, PUJ, POP), St. Lucia (UVF), Curacao (CUR), all Mexican destinations, Costa Rica and Jamaica. WestJet says it will no longer be offering flexible change/cancel to these destinations as they are confirmed to be business as usual.
“WestJet would like thank our valued guests for their patience and understanding over the past few days. We can certainly understand the confusion that Canadian travellers have over their future travel plans to regions of the Bahamas and Florida specifically and to the Caribbean in general. Overall, we are thankful that the hurricane has now diminished to the point that we are able to evaluate many of our destinations and hotel partners and provide some certainty around change and cancel to destinations in affected areas.”
Transat is also making changes to its flight schedule due to the impact caused by the passage of Hurricane Irma.
Transat’s flights to Cayo Coco and Cayo Santa Maria will be suspended until Oct. 31. “Our operations to Holguin will continue as normal, with a flight scheduled as of this Sept. 15. We expect to resume our operations to Varadero as of Sept. 22.”
To meet the higher demand Transat will be increasing capacity on its flights to the D.R. and Mexico during the months of September and October.
“We are currently coordinating all the changes to our bookings following the passage of hurricane Irma. Our teams will contact all customers impacted by those changes. We thank you in advance for your collaboration.”
Sunwing’s flights to Manzanillo are operating as normal but all southbound flights to Holguin have been cancelled up to including Sept. 14. Flights to Varadero are currently cancelled up to and including Sept.17. Flights to Cayo Coco, Cayo Santa Maria and Camaguey are suspended until Oct. 31.
American Airlines said the storm forced it to cancel more than 5,000 flights over several days, cutting into revenue and profit. American Airlines Group Inc., which has a major hub in Miami, said all the storm-related cancellations caused it to cut a forecast for third-quarter revenue per mile by about 1 percentage point. American didn’t give a dollar figure, but a drop of 1.5 points in the same figure at United Airlines after Hurricane Harvey equaled about $150 million in lost revenue.
American said the combination of lost revenue from Irma and higher fuel prices from Harvey, which shut down many Texas refineries, would cause its third-quarter pretax profit margin to fall from around 11% to around 9.5%.
In St. Martin, French President Emmanuel Macron has promised to rebuild the wrecked island and diversify its economy from a sole reliance on tourism.
Macron stayed overnight on St. Martin, reportedly sleeping on a camp cot. He was heading to the heavily damaged island of St. Barts today with the French health minister, who has warned about diseases spreading on the islands after water supplies, electricity and communication were knocked out for days.
“What we have seen today are people determined to rebuild and return to a normal life,” said Macron. He said France was bringing in air-conditioned tents so children can start classes again soon, and that a centre would be established by Sept. 18 to begin processing requests for financial help.
Macron pledged to rebuild St. Martin as a “model island” that would be a “showcase of French excellence.”
“I don’t want to rebuild St. Martin as it was,” he said. “We have seen there are many homes that were built too precariously, with fragile infrastructure. The geography of the homes was not adapted to the risks.”
The Category 5 hurricane killed 11 people in St. Martin, while another four people died on the Dutch side of the island, bringing the death toll in the Caribbean to at least 37.
For the latest update from CTO on all the Caribbean islands, with the exception of Cuba where reports are still very preliminary, see ‘What’s open, closed & damaged in the Caribbean’.
With files from The Associated Press