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Hurricane Irene: Tips for travelers heading to the East Coast

August 25, 2011|By Mary Forgione | Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger
  • Astronaut Ron Garan on Monday took this photo of Hurricane Irene from the International Space Station.
Astronaut Ron Garan on Monday took this photo of Hurricane Irene from the… (NASA )

Traveling to the East Coast soon? With the uncertainty of Hurricane Irene -- namely how and where this storm will hit -- it's best to be prepared with what I like to call an "I-could-be-stranded strategy."

"These types of events are pretty normal; it happened a lot during the holiday storms" last year, says Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel. "It's always the same situation, but for a lot of people, it might be the first time it happens to them."

Banas advises travelers to be hyper-vigilant about monitoring all parts of their travel plan (transportation, lodgings, etc.) for advisories and updates. Key to staying informed is to have a laptop, tablet or smartphone -- and the requisite chargers -- on hand so you can access information quickly.

Airlines: Stay abreast of what airlines are telling passengers to do online or by phone. Many airlines operating between the East Coast and the Caribbean have already issued change fee waivers that spell out how to modify your plans without penalty.

If your flight is delayed or canceled once you're at the airport, try all avenues available to get a seat on another flight or next-available flight. That means standing in the long customer service line while calling by phone and/or texting the airline to get your travel situation resolved.

And work those social media sites too. "During the winter storms, people were able to tweet and get reservations changed," Banas says.

Hotels: If you prepaid on a hotel room and can't get there for all or part of your stay, call the hotel and ask them to relax their cancellation and refund policy. Explain your situation and try to negotiate a credit or partial refund if they won't fully refund your money.

If you're stuck at the airport, look up area hotels on your laptop or smartphone and ask for a "distressed traveler rate," Banas says. Also try last-minute booking sites like Hotel Tonight so you don't have to pay full price.

Travel insurance: It bears repeating to say you need to read the fine print to find out exactly what your policy covers. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other travel "interruptions" or "acts of God" may not be covered. For Hurricane Irene, it's too late now to buy a policy.

Here are links with more advice and information on traveling during hurricane season:

-- Travel.State.gov from the U.S. State Department, with tips on how to stay safe during hurricane and typhoon season.

-- National Hurricane Center, for latest updates and advisories about Hurricane Irene.

-- Examiner.com's cruise writer Chris Owen explains why folks travel during hurricane season, how to file an insurance claim and more.

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