Travel news: A lesson in hurricane preparedness

August 26, 2011

Hurricane 101; Kayak goes one-way; express bus goes south

C’mon, Irene

Irene is the first big, bad storm of Hurricane Season 2011, which started in June and runs through November. Most likely, she won’t be the last.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Atlantic hurricane season outlook, there is an 85 percent chance that activity will be above normal this year. The agency is predicting 14 to 19 named storms, seven to 11 hurricanes, and three to five major hurricanes. By comparison, NOAA defines “normal” as 11, 6 and 2, respectively.

As the East Coast battens down its hatches for Irene, CoGo spoke with Anne Banas, SmarterTravel executive editor, about what travelers need to know when a hurricane dares to trip up their holiday.

- If you are traveling during this volatile season, consider purchasing travel insurance. Make sure the policy covers natural disasters. Timing is everything, though: You need to purchase insurance before the threat of the storm materializes, typically before it earns a name.

- On every booking, ask the company about its cancellation and refund policies. Some providers, especially in vulnerable areas, offer special dispensations during this season. For example, on the Cayman Islands, more than 25 properties, plus activities operators, offer a Worry Free Hurricane Guarantee. The agreement reduces or eliminates penalties for last-minute cancellations and, in some cases, grants guests a free replacement stay. (Banas reminds guests to collect all necessary paperwork before they depart, for proof of the aborted stay.)

- Watch for flight cancellations as well as changes in penalty fees. Banas said the carriers have become “really great about waiving change fees,” but warns of potentially tight restrictions, such as the airlines covering only a sliver of departure dates.

- Make contingency plans. For example, if you were supposed to ride Amtrak south of Washington this weekend, you might need to rent a car instead. At press time, the company had canceled a number of trains through Sunday, including the Auto Train, Silver Meteor (New York-Miami) and Carolinian (New York-Cary, N.C.). Check Amtrak (www.amtrak.com) for additional disruptions.

- Heed warnings, especially those issued by local tourism offices and government officials. For instance, last week the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism advised visitors who are scheduled to arrive in the islands through Monday to postpone their trips.

- Rather than cancel, c ruise lines often reroute their ships or alter their itineraries to avoid trouble spots. Royal Caribbean and Carnival have already rejiggered schedules on multiple trips in the Caribbean. Consult the cruise line for updates. And remember that even if your cruise is set to sail, you still have to make your way to the departure terminal. Make sure the airlines are still flying to the starting port, and give yourself extra time to meet the boat.

- If you’re at your destination when the hurricane hits, follow local news reports as well as updates from your hotel. Hotels and resorts typically assist guests with evacuation plans, such as transfers to the airport. Some travel industry companies also provide free guidance. Last week Travel Guard North America, a travel insurance firm (www.travel
guard.com
), said it will offer free emergency travel and medical assistance to U.S. and Canadian travelers affected by Hurricane Irene. For help, call 866-644-6811.

- To jump on an earlier flight out, work every outlet possible: phones, online reservations, social media, airport agents. “Use all of the above and all at the same time,” says Banas.

- To avoid technological snags, remember to bring your chargers and set up your cellphone with a SIM card or stock up on international calling cards. Power up your gadgets whenever possible. Also, make sure friends and family back home have your travel details so that they can keep track of you. And pack light so you can make a quick getaway.

Run south, Greyhound

Greyhound Express, the speedier, more modern sister of the old dog, is making inroads in the Southeast.

Starting Sept. 7, the bus company will offer nonstop rides from Washington to Richmond, and one-stop service to Raleigh, N.C., Charlotte and Atlanta. Passengers transfer in Richmond. Info: www.greyhound.com/express.

Make it a single

The online search engine Kayak recently introduced Hacker Fares, which pairs two one-way fares on two separate airlines.

To try it out, CoGo plugged in round-trip dates from Reagan National to Boston. The first Hacker Fare, which was also the first fare to pop up in the entire search, was United/JetBlue for $201. The site broke down the price — $92 on United, $109 on JetBlue — and informed travelers, “This itinerary requires two separate purchases.”

If booking twice is too onerous, you could pay $2 more for the US Airways round-trip flight. But what you gain in booking time, you lose in on-board entertainment.

Help feed CoGo. Send travel news to: cogo@washpost.com . By mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071

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