As Hurricane Michael made landfall on Wednesday, travel in the Florida panhandle had come to a halt.
A shutdown of all commercial air travel in the area was in effect. Tallahassee International Airport, Northwest Florida Beaches Airport in Panama City, and Destin Fort Walton Beach Airport, home of Eglin Air Force Base, and Pensacola International Airport are all closed.
Most airports said that they expect to reopen Thursday morning. In a tweet posted on Tuesday, Northwest Florida Beaches Airport reported that the “anticipated start-up” of the airport would be Thursday. But the unpredictability of the storm could mean that an air travel shutdown may last even longer.
The airports are encouraging passengers to verify their flight status with the airlines.
Most airlines to the region’s airports have canceled flights until Thursday morning, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines.
With the storm’s projected path tracking north and east, Atlanta-based Delta is capping some airfares, waiving some bag fees, and waiving certain change fees for flights to airports along the trajectory, including Mobile, Ala., Savannah, Ga., and Columbia, S.C.
Southwest Airlines is also allowing passengers flying into certain cities along the storm’s path to rebook without a fee.
The conditions on the ground continued to deteriorate on Wednesday, with many local roads being closed. Typical was the Bay County Sheriff’s department tweet that it had ordered the closure of the Hathaway Bridge in Panama City. Other bridges around the coastal area were also reported closed, further shutting down land travel.
And Wednesday morning, Florida State University in Tallahassee reported that the Tallahassee International Airport was already measuring tropical storm force wind gusts at the airport.
On Wednesday afternoon, as the storm’s 155-mile-per-hour winds lashed Panama City, calls to 10 of that city’s most popular hotels, including the Holiday Inn, Wingate by Wyndham, Country Inn and Suites by Radisson and Hilton Garden Inn went unanswered. The phone lines rang and rang again, with nobody picking up.
VisitFlorida.com, the Florida tourism industry’s marketing arm, has joined with Expedia, and the two have activated Expedia’s “emergency accommodations module,” to provide real-time accommodations information to those seeking lodgings.
Visit Florida reported that the four official Florida welcome centers, located at major access points into and out of the state, had been turned into emergency information centers, but Wednesday closed entirely for the safety of the staff.
Airbnb is sending travel updates by text message to its customers who have planned travel to northwest Florida. Ben Breit, a spokesman for Airbnb said that the company’s “extenuating circumstances policy, ” is in effect for parts of Florida, which means refunds may be available and penalties will be waived for cancellations because of airport closures. Airbnb’s “Open Homes” program has been activated across the southeast, which lets residents forced to evacuate find shelter in the homes of Airbnb hosts free of charge.
VRBO and host company HomeAway are encouraging customers to call their customer service line for information on how to handle affected bookings.
Some cruises with Florida, New Orleans or Galveston, Tex., departures have been forced to shift itineraries or delay departures, including sailings operated by Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Carnival.