Travel plans in the Southeast United States were under siege Wednesday , as Hurricane Michael — the seventh hurricane of the Atlantic season — began bearing down on the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday. The Category 4 hurricane packed winds of 155 mph, which may make it the most powerful storm to ever hit the region.
About 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast were ordered to evacuate. Tallahassee International Airport (TLH) closed at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday ahead of the storm; it plans to reopen at 8 a.m. Thursday, according to its Twitter feed.
Smaller regional airports in Pensacola, Destin and Panama City also closed Wednesday.
Airlines and travel agents earlier in the week assured affected customers that fees for flight changes would be waived and refunds offered in many cases.
Walt Disney World, in central Florida in Orlando, was well south of the storm’s projected path.
Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines warned customers that flights in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama could be disrupted, and specifically mentioned travel into and out of Fort Walton Beach, Panama City, Pensacola and Tallahassee in Florida, as well as Mobile, Ala.; Savannah and Augusta in Georgia; and Columbia, S.C.
Delta said passengers with flights booked to, from or through those airports on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday can change their itineraries without the usual change fees.
Restrictions may apply. Delta info on storm.
Southwest Air says flights to and from Cancun and Havana could be diverted or canceled this week, and also was concerned about flights to and from New Orleans, Charleston, S.C., and Tampa and Jacksonville in Florida.
The airlines said Monday that passengers can rebook without charge in the original class of service.
United announced Monday that change fees would be waived for those scheduled to travel Wednesday and Thursday to the following cities in Florida: Fort Walton Beach, Panama City, Pensacola and Tallahassee. In South Carolina, the policy applies to Charleston and Columbia. Other cities include Mobile, Ala., and Atlanta and Savannah in Georgia.
Rescheduled travel must be completed within one year from the date when the ticket was issued.
American Airlines passengers can track the storm, and potential rebookings, at www.aa.com/travelalerts. The storm arrives just after American announced that it would no longer rebook passengers on competing airlines if they weren’t AA frequent-flier members. Special circumstances, such as hurricanes, may still be considered.
On Sunday, the storm formed off the western tip of Cuba, and was expected to veer through the Gulf of Mexico and into the panhandle before crossing Florida and heading up the East Coast.