Commercial flights resume to areas affected by Hurricane Irma

Will Coldwell and Sarah Marsh
BA is among a number of airlines and tour companies updating its travel information to destinations affected by Hurricane Irma. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

Airlines and tour operators serving destinations affected by Hurricane Irma are expected to return to normal operations this week. This comes after thousands of flights were cancelled when Florida, Cuba and other islands across the Caribbean were battered by winds in excess of 130mph, killing at least 49 people, causing extensive damage and flooding and leaving millions homeless and without power.

Having passed the Leeward Islands, St Martin, the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba – where damage is now being assessed by authorities – Irma is now moving north across Florida into south-west Georgia and eastern Alabama. By Sunday (10 September), more than 12,500 flights had been cancelled because of Irma, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware, with airlines including British Airways continuing to make cancellations on Monday.

However, as the relief effort begins, travel is starting to resume. The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) have been collecting reports from across the islands, which have been affected by the hurricane. The Dominican Republic, Haiti, Antigua and Anguilla experienced minimal damage, with some hotels expected to welcome guests from as early as Thursday. Tourism infrastructure in Puerto Rico is also operational and the island is continuing to welcome new visitors.

Barbuda and the British Virgin Islands were devastated by Irma. In Barbuda 90% of homes were destroyed. Hotel infrastructure was also damaged but, according to the CTO, with fewer than 100 hotel rooms, the overall effect on tourism is minimal. According to a statement from the director of tourism for the British Virgin Islands, Sharon Flax-Brutus, the damage has been “devastating”, with communication and power down. Individual hotels have reported some “manageable” damage.

British Ministry of Defence photograph of destruction caused by Hurricane Irma of the British Virgin Islands. Photograph: AP

On the Turks and Caicos islands, hotels are assessing damage. Several were scheduled for annual closure ahead of Irma, with at least a dozen now remaining closed until at least October. Others are open, with more due to reopen in the coming weeks. In a statement updated today (Tuesday), British Airways said it expects to operate flights from Miami to Heathrow and one of its two daily flights from Orlando to Gatwick.

Though all BA flights between Gatwick and Tampa remain cancelled, planned services between Gatwick and Fort Lauderdale are expected to operate as normal on Thursday. British Airways flights across the Caribbean are planned to operate as normal, though the airline has chartered two regional jets to fly between Providenciales and Antigua.

However, some customers stuck on Turks and Caicos criticised the airline’s communication. Steve Dandy, 55, from Greater Manchester, who has been stranded at his resort with his family said: “The communication was poor. They sent one text and one email saying the flight was cancelled with a number to ring if we wanted a refund or to rebook. It was known worldwide that comms were down where we were. All it needed was an email saying that they were working on an alternative plan to repatriate us.”

Helen Crosse, who is at the same resort, tweeted:
“Come on British Airways start giving some answers to your customers
who are stranded and struggling to contact you.”