BLOOMINGTON — Local travel agents are spending the week moving their Central Illinois clients out of the path of Hurricane Irma, which has ripped through the Caribbean and is expected to make landfall in south Florida by Sunday morning.
Tim Davis, president of Suzi Davis Travel in Bloomington, said several local clients vacationing in Florida are getting away from the storm's path.
“We had some people in the (Florida) Keys and in Fort Lauderdale,” said Davis. “Some have just flown home. Others rented a car and drove to Atlanta.”
He said some clients in Florida rearranged their plans, booking flights to Las Vegas to wrap up their vacation.
“Some people just traveled up to Orlando where it’s expected to be more safe because it’s inland,” said Davis.
Davis added that several cruise ships are rerouting to calmer waters to wait out the storm.
“I’ve heard that most airlines are trying to add flights. Airports like Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Key West are packed to the doors. There are still seats available out of Orlando and Tampa and Fort Myers, but those will become more scarce,” said Davis.
Fran Strebing, spokeswoman for Central Illinois Regional Airport, said all flights in and out of the Bloomington airport are operating as scheduled.
“A nonstop flight through Allegiant to Orlando left (Thursday) morning. It wasn’t as full as it was scheduled to be, likely because some folks opted not to go,” said Strebing.
She said flights over the weekend to the path of the hurricane are still set as scheduled, but airlines could change plans based on how the storm unfolds.
“People with scheduled flights should stay in contact with their airline through their official websites or social media. The best way is to sign up for travel alerts with the airline to know if the flight schedule changes,” said Strebing.
Davis said several of his clients are scheduled to travel to the hurricane path next week and likely will have to put vacation plans on hold.
“We’re not sure if they can still travel there. We don’t know what will be left in the storm’s path in places like the Dominican Republic and Haiti,” he said.
Greg Phillips, franchise owner and manager of Expedia Cruise Ship Centers in Bloomington, said he had several clients in the path of the storm but they have returned home or modified vacation plans.
He said if they aren't canceled, many cruise itineraries are being diverted away from expected storm devastation.
“Areas like St. Martin and St. Barts just won’t be fit to be around. Cruises will probably be diverted for the next few months,” said Phillips.
Anyone planning to travel to Florida and the surrounding islands over the next few months should be “watching the weather constantly,” said Phillips.
“We’re not done. It’s still hurricane season. Hurricane Jose is next, though it will be less traumatic, but there’s bound to be more behind it. Hurricane season technically ends the end of November but the peak time is Sept. 10," he said.
For those looking for a tropical vacation without the risk of hurricanes, Phillips recommended the southern Caribbean.
“Try Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire islands," he said. "Hurricanes by their nature are pushed up farther to the north, so they rarely swipe those islands off of South America."