Airlines evacuate passengers ahead of Hurricane Irma

As Hurricane Irma bears down on the Caribbean, Canadian airlines Air Transat, WestJet and Air Canada dispatched several aircraft on Sept. 6, 2017, to evacuate travellers from the region.

Air Transat airliner in flight
Air Transat announced on the morning of Sept. 6 that it was sending 10 aircraft to bring its travellers home from the Dominican Republic. Jan Jasinski Photo
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Meanwhile, Irma–a Category 5-plus storm that has been called the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history–made landfall in the northeast Caribbean earlier that same day.

After battering the tiny islands of Barbuda, Antigua, St. Martin and Anguilla in the pre-dawn hours of Sept. 6–with maximum sustained winds of 297 kilometres per hour (185 miles per hour)–Irma was projected to head toward the British Virgin Islands and then perhaps to northern Puerto Rico. Authorities say it could head for Florida over the coming weekend.

WestJet airliner resting on tarmac
The CBC reported that Calgary-based WestJet sent five planes to the Caribbean: three to Punta Cana and one each to Puerto Plata and Turks and Caicos. Jan Jasinski Photo

The U.S. has declared emergencies in Puerto Rico, Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands; meanwhile, Bahamas authorities made plans to evacuate six of the archipelago’s southern islands with residents being flown to Nassau.

Montreal-based Air Transat announced on the morning of Sept. 6 that it was sending 10 aircraft to bring its travellers home from the Dominican Republic. Seven planes were dispatched to Punta Cana, two to Puerto Plata and one to Samana. Passengers were expected to be back on Canadian soil by that afternoon or early evening. Later that day, it deployed 10 flights to Cuba, bringing the total of repatriated customers to 1,800.

Satellite animation of Hurricane Irma
This satellite animation from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA tracks Hurricane Irma, which has been called the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history. NOAA/NASA Image
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The airline also said it would implement its hurricane policy for flights scheduled until Sept. 11 to the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Haiti, with regular updates to be posted on its website.

The CBC reported that Calgary-based WestJet sent five planes to the Caribbean: three to Punta Cana and one each to Puerto Plata and Turks and Caicos.

Later on Wednesday evening, Air Canada announced it would operate 24 additional flights to bring customers home from the Dominican Republic, Florida, Cuba, Antigua and Providenciales. The airline also planned to dispatch larger aircraft to Caribbean destinations, including Havana and Nassau.

“With these additional flights and larger aircraft, Air Canada will have flown over 6,000 seats northbound in addition to its regular schedule over the three-day period from Tuesday September 5 to Thursday September 7th,” read the airline’s news release.

Travellers heading to the Caribbean or Florida up to Sept. 11 were advised to check the status of their flight prior to heading to the airport.

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