by Natalie Paris from The Telegraph, September 6, 2017
British tourists have been evacuated from parts of the Caribbean amid warnings that the approaching Hurricane Irma - the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history - will be "potentially catastrophic".
Holidaymakers in Antigua were urged to comply with evacuation orders last night as British Airways sent an empty aircraft to bring back a full flight of 326 passengers early.
On Wednesday authorities in Antigua and St Kitts closed their airports, so flights, including two from BA and their return services, have been cancelled.
Will my flight be affected?
So far, 855 flights have been cancelled to/from the islands within the radius of Irma’s potential path.
A BA spokesman said: “We are in contact with travellers in the region and laid on a special flight from Antigua yesterday to get as many customers home as possible before the hurricane arrived on the island.
“We have offered all customers due to travel to the Caribbean and Florida in the coming days a range of re-booking options and are keeping our flights to the entire region under review.”
Virgin Atlantic has also given its customers who are currently on holiday in Antigua, Havana and Miami, the opportunity of coming home early.
The eye of the hurricane passed over the island of Barbuda - very close to Antigua - first, with the storm expected to head in the direction of Puerto Rico shortly afterwards, which could end up feeling the brunt of the destruction.
What is the advice for holidaymakers?
Foreign Office advice for Britons warned of hazardous sea and weather conditions to a number of popular destinations and advised that holidaymakers follow the advice of the local authorities and any evacuation orders.
It also suggested that travellers monitor the progress of approaching storms via the US National Hurricane Centre.
In the Bahamas, prime minister Hubert Minnis has ordered a mandatory evacuation of islands in the southern part of the island chain in preparation.
He said that people who don't evacuate will be at "great danger" from a storm surge caused by a "monster" hurricane.
Where is the hurricane headed?
The path of the hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Centre ( http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/ ) at 5am AST (8am GMT), is as follows:
“Irma will bring life-threatening wind, storm surge and rainfall hazards to portions of the northern Leeward Islands, including the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico today.
“A hurricane warning is in effect for the northern coast of the Dominican Republic as well as the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos , with hurricane watches for portions of Haiti and the central Bahamas. Irma is likely to bring dangerous wind, storm surge and rainfall to these areas from Wednesday night through Friday.
“Irma could directly affect the remainder of the Bahamas and Cuba as an extremely dangerous major hurricane later this week. Residents in these areas should monitor the progress of Irma and listen to advice given by officials.
“The chance of direct impacts from Irma beginning later this week and this weekend from wind, storm surge and rainfall continues to increase in the Florida Keys and portions of the Florida Peninsula. However, it is too soon to specify the timing and magnitude of these impacts.”
Is there any further travel disruption?
A flight to Antigua on September 7 has been cancelled by Virgin Atlantic but otherwise, the airline said that all other flights are scheduled to operate as normal.
A spokeswoman asked passengers to check the status of their flights in case of any changes at virginatlantic.com before travelling to the airport.
It is allowing travellers to some affected destinations the chance to rebook.
“The safety and comfort of our customers is our top priority and any customers booked to travel to, from or through Antigua, Havana and Miami between today and September 11 may rebook their flights to an alternative date or alternative destination travelling on or before October 14 (subject to availability), or receive a full refund.”
Customers currently in any of these resorts also have the option of returning home early, she added. They are asked to call either their travel agent or Virgin Atlantic directly on 0344 209 8711 for more information.
Thomson is encouraging customers due to travel to Dominican Republic, Cuba and Florida in the coming days to check its website regularly for updates. It has delayed flight TOM054 from London Gatwick to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, which was due to depart at 11:40am today, for 48 hours.
TOM055 from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic to London Gatwick on Wednesday 6th September will operate as normal.
The tour operator is advising its customers to “closely follow instructions from the holiday reps and the hotel management in the resort at all times, and should customers have any questions, they speak to their holiday rep in the hotel or call us on our 24/7 holiday line on +44 3333 365 147 (or +353 1 5133401 for Irish customers).
"Alternatively customers can e-mail or text us as follows: e-mail: [email protected], text 8234.”
Many cruise lines have changed their itineraries to avoid the hurricane's path. For advice on flights and cruises to destinations that might be affected by the hurricane see our updated advice here.