Powerful Hurricane Idalia walloped parts of Florida and other states in the Southeast just as the summer travel season nears its unofficial end with the busy Labor Day weekend.
The advice for travelers who are in affected areas right now is clear: Pay attention to local guidance.
But what should travelers be doing about plans to travel to Florida and other affected areas for the holiday weekend?
CNN Travel spoke with experts about how to handle upcoming plans:
Should travelers cancel Labor Day weekend plans in Florida?
No, says AAA Travel’s Paula Twidale, with the caveat that the situation requires monitoring.
“We encourage consumers to keep travel plans,” but to monitor the storm’s effects, and look for airline waivers for re-booking, “if necessary,” said Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel.
Rescheduling makes sense for hard-hit areas, according to Clint Henderson, managing editor at travel site The Points Guy.
Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, which represents two popular beach spots, said in an emailed statement Wednesday afternoon that the destination “fared well and saw minimal damage.” Access was temporarily restricted to Pinellas County’s barrier islands, but it has since been restored.
The tourism organization recommends that visitors contact their accommodations to find out when properties will be open and accepting guests.
Visit Tampa Bay said Thursday morning that the area is “100% open.”
Tampa International Airport reopened to arrivals Wednesday afternoon and fully reopened early Thursday.
“We are currently welcoming new visitors as we speak. We’ve also had minor street flooding that has since receded, and all attractions are open and operating,” said Vanessa Evans, director of public relations for Visit Tampa Bay.
What about coastal areas in Georgia and the Carolinas?
The same advice about checking with your accommodations goes for other areas that have been impacted by the storm, which made landfall Wednesday morning in the Big Bend area of Florida’s Gulf Coast and moved across northern Florida and into Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
The historic city of Savannah, Georgia, a popular tourist destination, was bracing for wind and rain Wednesday as Idalia moved through.
The city and surrounding area have plans in place to help reopen for business “as quickly as possible,” Joseph Marinelli, president of Visit Savannah, said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The weather for Thursday afternoon into the Labor Day weekend is looking amazing for Savannah and Tybee Island Beach, and I can assure you that Savannah and the 28,000 employees of our tourism economy will be working hard to provide a memorable getaway experience for the holiday weekend,” Marinelli said.
Can I rebook my flight to Florida or other affected states?
Most US airlines have rolled out waivers that will allow many passengers with imminent travel plans in affected areas to change their flights without penalty.
“The rules vary by airline, but you’ll generally have to rebook in the same cabin and meet specific date requirements to qualify for the waiver,” said Phil Dengler, co-founder of The Vacationer.
And passengers who experience cancellations, significant delays or schedule changes are entitled to prompt cash refunds, according to Department of Transportation rules.
“If your airline offers you a travel credit, insist on the cash refund,” said Dengler.
What if you’re nervous about flying to a place outside the affected areas but still too close for personal comfort – and your flight isn’t canceled?
“It’s up to the airline’s discretion. If your flight is operating without a significant change, you’re not entitled to a cash refund,” said Scott Keyes, founder of travel site Going.
“Most full-service airlines will allow you to cancel and get the full amount paid back in travel credit to be used in the next 12 months, as long as you hadn’t booked a basic economy ticket,” Keyes said.
How can I rebook my hotel?
Henderson recommends checking your hotel’s website to see if your stay may be impacted. Not all hotels are offering refunds, but some are, he said. “It never hurts to ask.”
And if you booked with a third-party site such as Expedia, you’ll need to make changes through them, he said.
Expedia Group, which includes a variety of booking sites including Expedia.com, Hotels.com and Vrbo.com, told CNN Travel this week it was working with its hotel partners to implement a flexible policy for affected areas.
“The flex policy can be accessed when you engage with a virtual agent once you log into your account or provide your itinerary number to the virtual agent,” a company spokesperson said. Customer service portals on Expedia and Hotels.com can provide information and assistance.
Natural disasters do not override Vrbo vacation rental cancellation policies that guests agree to when booking with hosts, according to Expedia Group.
“Guests that need to cancel or make changes to a booking outside of the cancellation policy window should work directly with the host,” the company spokesperson said. “We always encourage hosts to do what they can to work with guests in these cases.”
And some credit cards have trip delay and cancellation insurance that could get refunds for travelers who paid with those cards, Henderson said.
Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing corporation, encourages travelers making plans during hurricane season (from June through November, with the peak from mid-August to mid-October) to find out in advance from hotels, airlines and car rental companies about their refund policies, how they keep guests informed about approaching storms and what actions they would take in the event of a storm.
The risk your flight will be canceled and trip ruined because of a hurricane – even in peak season in the Gulf of Mexico and the Southeast’s Atlantic – is still pretty low, said Keyes. Still there are measures travelers can take just in case.
He advised “remembering your refund rights under federal law, taking stock of the travel protections automatically provided to you by your credit card, and if you feel there’s a gap, purchasing additional travel insurance can be prudent.”
What about cruises sailing from Florida?
About a dozen ships were impacted through slight port-of-call adjustments because of hurricanes Idalia and Franklin, said Cruise Critic’s Editor-in-Chief Colleen McDaniel.
Port Everglades and the Port of Miami were operating as usual on Wednesday, while several other Florida ports, including Port Canaveral, JaxPort (Jacksonville) and Port Tampa Bay were temporarily closed, McDaniel said Wednesday morning.
“Conditions change quickly because of hurricanes, and they will reopen when it’s deemed safe,” she said.
Affected passengers should be looking for text messages from cruise lines and ports as well as monitoring social media sites such as Facebook and X (formerly Twitter). Cruise Critic offers an explainer on what to know about cruising during hurricane season.