Canadian airlines Air Transat, WestJet, Air Canada and Sunwing are sending planes to the Dominican Republic and Turks and Caicos to help get travellers home ahead of Hurricane Irma.
Air Transat has said it’s launched “an evacuation operation” sending 10 aircraft to the Dominican Republic, including seven to Punta Cana, two to Puerto Plata and one to Samana to get passengers out of Irma’s path.
“All aircraft should arrive in the Dominican Republic on the morning of September 6th, and passengers should be back in Canada in the afternoon or early evening,” the airline said in a news release.
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The Montreal-based airline said all aircraft were expected to arrive in the Dominican Republic by Wednesday morning and that passengers should be back in Canada by afternoon or early evening.
WestJet said it is sending planes to the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Turks and Caicos to rescue guest ahead of the powerful storm.
“We have a number of 737-800s operating as rescue flights to Punta Cana and Puerto Plata today,” spokesperson Lauren Stewart said in an email. “For September 7, the plan at this time is to operate additional flights to Santa Clara and Cayo Coco, Cuba to return guests back to Canada.
“We are working with local authorities, our hotel partners and the airports to coordinate our rescue efforts however, we advise that anyone in the area follow the instructions of local authorities and the hotels who are implementing their own hurricane preparedness plans.”
The Calgary-based airline also issued an advisory for guests travelling to or from several Caribbean islands between Sept. 5-11, 2017 to check the status of their flights prior to heading for the airport.
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Air Canada has said that additional flights went to Antigua and Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos to help get passenger home early while additional flights were being sent to the Dominican Republic and Florida. The airline plans to use larger aircraft with more seats for its flights from Cuba and has waived fees for customers wanting to change flights.
“Air Canada is reviewing capacity requirements and working with Air Canada Vacations to ensure we have sufficient capacity to bring our customers home safely,” the airline said in a statement, adding it has waived fees for customers wanting to change flights. “Air Canada will continue to monitor the situation closely and will communicate further changes as necessary.”
Sunwing Airlines is also closely monitoring conditions and says the airline is contacting customers who will be affected and need to change their travel arrangements.
Officials also said in a statement that they sent two special flights to St. Maarten on Tuesday to evacuate passengers, and will send two charter flights to Punta Cana and Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic to evacuate Canadians who were supposed to fly out later this week. Travel to those cities have been restricted.
Flights to Cuba, Florida and Freeport, Bahamas are continuing, though officials say their hurricane refund policy applies to passengers flying between Sept. 6-10.
More information on specific flight times can be found here.
WestJet, Air Transat, and Air Canada were not able to say how many passengers have been affected.
Irma is considered to be the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history with a storm surge of nearly two and half metres, and wind speeds topping 250 km/h.
The Category 5 storm battered the small islands of Antigua and Barbuda Wednesday morning on a path toward Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and possibly Florida by the weekend, according to the U.S. National Weather Service.
Heavy rain and winds also hammered Saint-Martin, St. Maarten and Anguilla causing extensive damage.
Meanwhile, American Airlines has also added extra flights out of the Caribbean islands of St. Maarten and St. Kitts and Nevis. Other U.S. carriers including Delta Air Lines, United and Southwest are waiving change and cancellation fees or cancelling some flights to parts of the Caribbean this week.
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said his government was evacuating six islands in the south because authorities would not be able to help anyone caught in the “potentially catastrophic” storm. Minnis said residents would be flown to Nassau starting Wednesday in what he called the largest storm evacuation in the country’s history
– With files from The Canadian Press