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Travel Snarled As Irene Hits East Coast

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(Source: AP)

(Source: AP)

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Hurricane Irene

MIAMI (CBSMiami.com) – Authorities up and down the East Coast have a simple message for anyone planning to travel in that area this weekend, stay home.

The airline industry in the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern part of the United States has effectively been crippled, making it difficult for travelers trying to get anywhere.

All total, more than 8,300 flights this weekend have been cancelled.

Miami International Airport reported 85 arrival or departure cancellations as Hurricane Irene took aim at some of the country’s largest cities and airports Saturday.

Fort Lauderdale International Airport wasn’t having much more success, with 46 cancellations and  11 delays as of Saturday evening.

Airports including Boston, Baltimore, JFK, La Guardia, and Philadelphia were all reporting departure cancellations to Fort Lauderdale.

Complicating the matter for travelers is that many of those large cities are hubs for several airlines.

JetBlue’s hub is New York City, which means that airline’s entire operation is being impacted.

Southwest, which flies out of Fort Lauderdale, also has a hub in Baltimore which complicates travel for much of the east coast on the budget airline.

It’s not just the airlines that are being impacted, Amtrak has canceled service south of Washington through Sunday.

In NYC, subways, buses and trains will halt at noon Saturday, an unprecedented move by transportation officials.

The airlines’ preparation reflects a new approach to dealing with big storms. In recent years, they have waived ticket-change fees and canceled flights long before storms arrive. That has helped reduce the number of travelers and flight crews who get stranded at airports.

Canceling flights ahead of time keeps planes out of the path of damaging storms and lets airlines resume normal schedules more quickly after the bad weather passes.

But sheltering planes far from a storm carries risks. If the storm changes path and misses big airports, hundreds of flights will have been canceled unnecessarily.

The airlines announced policies for changing trips free of the normal ticket-change charges.

When a big storm threatens to delay or cancel your flight, here are some tips:

1. CHECK YOUR STATUS

To avoid getting stranded at the airport, check your flight status early and often. Check at least once on the day you’re flying and again before heading to the airport.

2. PREPARE

Once you’re ready to head to the airport, come prepared. Write down your flight number and departure time. Do the same for similar flights. This will make things easier if the airline lets you change your flight for free and you need to rebook with an airline agent.

3. WORK ALL THE ANGLES

If you’re already at the airport when your flight is canceled, it’s time for double duty. Walk over to customer service. While in line, dial the customer service number. You’ll probably reach someone on the phone before getting to the front of the line. Want a third option? Try Twitter. Some airlines have already begun to help stranded passengers over the social media site.

4. CAREFUL ABOUT CHANGES

If you push back your flight, be sure about your new plans before you lock them in. Otherwise, you’ll be out $150. Many airlines only waive change fees once in bad weather.

5. VOUCHER OR CASH

If you cancel your booking altogether, the airline might offer you a voucher for a future flight. But you can ask for cash instead.

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