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As Irma approaches, some airlines cap fares and add seats

Hurricane Irma preparations in Miami Beach, Florida, USA
Tourists wait for a bus to take them to an evacuation center ahead of the expected arrival of Hurricane Irma in Miami Beach.
(Erik S. Lesser / European Pressphoto Agency)

As one of the most powerful storms on record approaches Florida, several airlines have capped fares for flights traveling in and out of the path of Hurricane Irma and waived fees for rebooking flights.

But time is running out to take advantage of the price caps — from as low as $99 for an economy seat — because several major carriers have already started to cancel flights in the path of the hurricane, starting Friday night. The hurricane could make landfall in Florida as soon as Saturday, according to some forecasts.

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 4,000 flights had been canceled to and from airports in Florida and the Caribbean, according to Flightaware.com, a flight tracking service.

Cruises that launch from Florida have also been canceled, and passengers whose trips have been cut short are trying to figure out how to get home.

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Walt Disney Co. is closing Walt Disney World’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground in Orlando, which has about 800 campsites and 400 cabins, and the Treehouse Villas at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort, a spokesman said Thursday.

Delta Air Lines announced Wednesday that the Atlanta-based carrier has capped one-way fares to and from South Florida at $399 through next Wednesday, and is waiving all baggage and pet-in-cabin fees for flights involving 28 cities in Florida and islands in the Caribbean.

Delta said it has added 2,000 additional seats on flights out of Florida, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic to help evacuate people from the path of the storm.

Airports in St. Thomas and St. Maarten remain closed because of storm damage.

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JetBlue reduced one-way fares to $99 to $159 for remaining seats on flights leaving 14 cities in the hurricane’s path, through Sept. 13. But the airline warned that most seats are already sold out.

American, JetBlue, United and Delta are letting customers change travel arrangements to Florida and the Caribbean without the usual charges for rebooking.

Airline officials and industry experts are also shooting down reports circulating on social media that air carriers are exploiting the potential catastrophe by raising fares dramatically for people trying to escape the approaching hurricane.

Instead, airlines say they normally set aside a handful of seats on each flight for travelers who are willing to pay extra to book at the last minute.

“Contrary to references in social media, Delta has not raised prices because of Hurricane Irma,” said Anthony Black, a spokesman for the airline.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D.-Conn.) and Sen. Edward Markey (D.-Mass.) asked Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to investigate reports of airline price gouging.

“Price gouging practices can take root during emergencies, so we further urge you to keep a close and watchful eye on airlines over the coming week to ensure airlines are not trying to make a dime off disaster,” they wrote.

Orlando Sentinel writer Dewayne Bevil contributed to this report.

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hugo.martin@latimes.com

To read more about the travel and tourism industries, follow @hugomartin on Twitter.

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UPDATES:

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3:05 p.m.: This article was updated with a revised total of flight cancellations, closures of Disney resorts and a request by two U.S. senators for an investigation into complaints of airline price gouging.

This article was originally published at 12:15 p.m.


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