No, you can’t cancel a Florida holiday. Tourist rights in a hurricane

Hurricane Irma: What should holidaymakers do if they are in Florida or have a trip booked?

Storms clouds  over the skyline of downtown Orlando as Hurricane Irma makes its way up the Florida peninsula. Photograph: Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images

Storms clouds over the skyline of downtown Orlando as Hurricane Irma makes its way up the Florida peninsula. Photograph: Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images

 

With thousands of Irish people on holidays in popular Florida destinations such as Orlando and Tampa, or cruising from the ports of Fort Lauderdale and Miami, Hurricane Irma has caused major disruption. Tour operators have been dealing with customers all weekend. Mary McKenna of tour operators Touramerica said: “We have contacted every customer and are paying particular attention to those who are more vulnerable. Fortunately we have two staff based in Orlando, who have been assisting our customers.”

Of those who are already in the US, some are staying on in their hotels and are comfortable, McKenna said. Some people may have to stay longer or to cut their holidays short.

Sunway Holidays says it is dealing with holidaymakers on a case-by-case basis, as many are on tailor-made holidays or cruises. It advises customers to keep in touch with the Department of Foreign Affairs, dfa.ie, and follow the advice of local services where they are. Sunway will make plans for people to return in line with airlines’ availability.

Here’s what you need to know if you are on holiday, or are due to depart in the coming weeks:

Q. When will Aer Lingus be operating flights again to Orlando and Miami?
A. Orlando flights are cancelled for Tuesday and may be operating again for Thursday’s flight, depending on the airport’s readiness. Miami Airport is due to be operational on Wednesday and that will be the next Aer Lingus flight to Florida. The airport suffered a lot of water damage.

Empty runways and gates are see at Miami International Airport on Monday, after Hurricane Irma strikes Florida. Photograph: Carlos Barria/Reuters
Empty runways and gates are see at Miami International Airport on Monday, after Hurricane Irma strikes Florida. Photograph: Carlos Barria/Reuters

Q. Can I change my flight?
A. You can change your flights to Miami or Orlando up to September 16th for travel up to September 30th. Or you can cancel and request a refund. Things are changing every few hours and the Aer Lingus website – aerlingus.com – and social media channels will be updated regularly.

Q. What has happened to people holidaying in the Orlando area?
A. People are staying in their hotels and accommodation. Tour operators are making arrangements for them to come home as soon as it is safe to do so.

Q. What about people whose flights were cancelled in the past few days?
A. People are being accommodated in their current hotels at the same cost as their original booking. They may have additional costs for accommodation and food.

Q. What about the theme parks?
A. Theme parks are closed on Monday and maybe Tuesday depending on the weather. Tickets purchased in advance, if they have not been used will get a full refund. If partly used, then there will be no refunds, though you can continue to use them until the final date. Customers usually buy one- or two-week passes to Disney World, Universal Studios and Seaworld. Discovery Cove is rebooking people to other dates.

A vehicle passes downed palm trees as Hurricane Irma passed through Miami Beach, Florida on Sunday, September 10th as a Category 4 storm lashed the state with 130 mph winds. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
A vehicle passes downed palm trees as Hurricane Irma passed through Miami Beach, Florida on Sunday, September 10th as a Category 4 storm lashed the state with 130 mph winds. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Q. Have many people cancelled their holidays?
A. There have been very few cancellations and tour operators says staff worked all over the weekend to deal with calls from customers.

Q. What about cruise passengers?
A. Some cruise ship itineraries from Fort Lauderdale and Miami have been cancelled and some sailed earlier or on adjusted itineraries. Most cruises are operating in the Western Caribbean and it has been less affected. Cruise companies are compensating customers for shortened and cancelled cruises. If cruises are cancelled there is a 100 per cent refund. If partialy disrupted, there is a percentage refund as a voucher against future cruises and on board purchases.

Q. I have a holiday booked, but I don't want to travel to Florida anymore. Can I cancel my upcoming holiday or cruise and get a refund?
A. No, you cannot cancel your trip because you no longer wish to travel, or are afraid of another hurricane. Some tour operators will have a cancellation policy and if your booking is less than 60 days away, you will begin to lose some of your payment. There is a sliding scale between 30-60 days of 50% loss and under 30 days you are unlikely to recoup any cost.

For cruises, the cancellation period is 75 days, after which you will begin losing on a sliding scale. Deposits are not usually refundable.

It is unlikely that travel insurance will cover the cost of your holiday, just because you are fearful of travelling.

Q. What advice is the Department of Foreign Affairs giving?
A. Follow the DFA on Twitter, @dfatravelwise, where it will be tweeting about the progress of the current and subsequent storms. Register on the Travelwise app for SMS messages and updates.

Q. Will I be covered by insurance for additional costs incurred because of Hurricane Irma?
A. It will depend on the type of travel insurance policy you have. If you have curtailment or an abandonment clause in your policy then you may well be covered for some of the additional costs. Contact your provider for details.

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