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Florida travel: Is it safe to fly as Hurricane Idalia hits the US state?

Tropical Storm Idalia, now officially classed as a hurricane, is hurtling towards the US state of Florida, where hundreds of residents have been ordered to leave their homes.

A state of emergency was issued in 46 of Florida’s 67 counties, a wide patch that stretches across the northern half of the state from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic Coast. Across this area, residents have been heading to shelters and loading up on sandbags.

Several counties are at risk of life-threatening floods, and Florida governor Ron DeSantis said of the evacuations in a press conference on 28 August: “We can rebuild someone’s home. You can’t unring the bell, though, if somebody stays in harm’s way and does battle with Mother Nature.”

Idalia has already brought misery to Cuba, where thousands have been evacuated from their homes while faced with heavy rain and flooding.

Those who have upcoming trips to Florida may well be wondering if it’s safe to visit the state right now. Here’s what we know so far.

After charting a path over the Gulf of Mexico, Idalia is expected to curve northeast toward the west coast of Florida before making landfall on Wednesday – before which it will “rapidly intensify into an extremely dangerous major hurricane”, according to the US National Hurricane Center.

Nearly the entire Gulf Coast – as well as Key West and the Lower Florida Keys – are under some form of hurricane, tropical storm and storm surge watches and warnings. Some of Florida’s largest cities, such as Tampa and Orlando, may well be affected. The US National Weather Service said that coastal areas as far south as the Florida Keys could see storm surges as Idalia approaches.

The extreme weather is already causing disruption for airports. Tampa International Airport has now closed, and will remain shut until the hurricane passes – Thursday morning as been mooted as a possible opening time.

Southwest Florida International Airport, near Fort Myers, has not shared any closure plans but told USA Today that they are monitoring the weather.

Two other major airports – Miami International and Orlando International – have not announced any plans to close, and could end up being outside the hurricane’s main path.

A number of US airlines, including Delta, United and Southwest, are being more flexible with changes to bookings given the incoming storm. Speak to your airline to see where you stand.

The Independent has contacted major carriers flying out of the UK to the US for more information.

A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson confirmed that their Tampa flights are subject to cancellation due to the airport being closed, and customers travelling in the coming days are advised to check the status of their flight.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) hasn’t issued any specific advice regarding Hurricane Idalia but it’s general advice regarding hurricanes states that people should:

The FCDO also advises that travellers ask their tour operator, airline and travel insurance provider what their terms and conditions are if plans are affected by extreme weather.

Visit Florida, the state’s tourism board, said that it is “currently monitoring” Idalia and that all visitors should watch the progress of the hurricane. The Independent has reached out for additional comment.

If you’re travelling to part of Florida unaffected by the hurricane and you cancel, it’s highly unlikely you will be able to claim a refund. However, speak to your airline and/or tour operator, who will be able to talk through your options. Given the extraordinary circumstances, holiday companies and airlines may be open to you changing your plans.

If you have booked a package holiday to areas affected by Idalia, you should be able to claim a full refund or rebook your trip as you are protected by the Package Travel Regulations, which stipulate customers are entitled to their money back if the performance of the holiday is “significantly impacted” by external factors.

As the FCDO has not issued a travel warning regarding the hurricane, cancellation costs won’t be covered by most providers. However, policies can vary, so make sure you check to see what your travel insurance covers.

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