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Travel Planning & Natural Disasters

Web: www.thetravelstrategist.com — E-Mail: fish@flyingwithfish.com

30/08/2008 – Travel Planning & Natural Disasters

As many people in North America watch the weather on the television they cannot help but notice Hurricane Gustav taking aim at New Orleans just three years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city.

As this potential repeat natural disaster potentially plays out I’d like to address travel planning in regions as they face immediate natural disasters. When I covered Hurricane Katrina back in 2005, flying into New Orleans was almost as challenging as flying out of New Orleans. The challenges in finding a flight, a rental car and lodging were significant.

First off, when looking at planning travel to a potentially affected area you need to asses the importance of your trip. If you are traveling for pleasure or routine business, reschedule your trip. If you have an ‘essential role’ or you are a journalist you need to look at your options and your resources. As you plan your flights, you may need to fly a hundred miles, or more, away, to find in-bound flights. Airlines start canceling flight and shifting schedules to make sure they have no aircraft caught in the wake of a hurricane.

Outside of flights, rental cars can be hard to find in a city about to be hit by a storm. If you need to be in a city, such as New Orleans, you may need to fly into Baton Rouge or Dallas to get a rental car, as rental car companies often try and move their fleets prior to a potential catastrophic event to reduce their loss of their assets.

If you are in, or around, an area about to be affected by a major natural disaster and you need to leave, you need to know airfares will be rising. Airfares rise due to all the seats being sold out and airlines minimizing capacity just before a hurricane. It is not uncommon for airlines to stop servicing a city at least 48 hours before the expected storm to affect the area. This allows an airline to not only move their aircraft, but also move their staff out of the potential disaster zone.

Once a storm, or natural disaster has occurred, travel to a specific area can be a serious challenge. With New Orleans for example, flying into New Orleans may not only be a challenge, but flying into an airport such as Dallas-Ft Worth or Houston’s Intercontinental Airports may be difficult. While these airports are 300 miles and 450 miles from New Orleans, they will play major roles in staging, relief and evacuation from the potential disaster zone. With aircraft flying additional aircraft to surrounding areas the airspace and ground space gets congested. While many flyers only factor in passenger flights, you need to also keep in mind that freight and cargo airlines must continue to fly, and at times fly additional aircraft into a region to keep business and relief efforts going. Outside of these additional aircraft, military aircraft may also use nearby regional airports as potential staging points.

If you have critical business in an area within approximately 400 miles from a potential disaster zone, you may need to adjust your travel plans. While seats may be available on flights, rental cars may not be available and you need to account for potential delays in flight schedules.

I know this is over simplified, but with a potential major disaster about to happen to a city that has already been nearly washed away once before in the past three years, I wanted to put this basic information up for as a reference point for journalists who will potentially find themselves in the region in the coming days.

Remember this. If you choose to travel to an affected region and you decide it is time to go home, you may find yourself at the end of the line for evacuation.

Happy Flying!


  1. Where are the pictures?

    You are a photographer – you need to add some pictures to this post.

  2. Sorry, I’m laying in bed recovering from a fairly significant surgery. I’d add some photos, but with moving last week and surgery in the middle of my neck this week, I’m not getting up and searching for my archive DVDs from New Orleans, or the archive hard-drives the images would be on. Moving my head is quite painful and challenging at the moment.

    I wanted to get this information out there, and it is effective without the photos in the post.

    Happy Flying!


  3. Fish

    Thank you very much for that info on the civilian side of traveling in a disaster.

    I was in the gulfcoast last week and it was a absolute nightmare on the ground, and in the air on the state/federal evac side.I was apart of a ground medical evac (called a ambulance strike team/taskforce) team and we had a ton of problems just moving around because of evacuations of people. For the most part where ever we moved we had to run lights and sirens so that we could maintain at least 40mph. going that slow is hard on crews because it makes everything take 3x longer then it should and make a long day even longer when you have been up over 24 straight.

    Our air crews had problems moving as well because the FAA kept messing with things by closing then opening airports with little or no notice when our aircraft where inbound to pick up critical patients (thank goodness they didnt need fuel).

    A little planning goes a long way to making complicated problems a little easier

    keep up the good work and hopefully i can meet you at WPPI next year.

    TDM – Paramedic

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