Flying During Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey has been devastating and I’ve watched the social media accounts of my friends in Houston intently, I’ve appreciated their frequent-ish updates just the fact that they’re updating which tells me they’re ok.

It’s frustrating not to be able to do anything, really, to help. Donations to relief charities are great, and natural disasters are focal for fundraising, but giving to ‘Harvey Relief’ doesn’t really go to immediate rescue. Those plans and activities are already baked in, and any gifts you or I make won’t influence those at the margin. They’ll help refill coffers which is important, but that’s less immediately tied to this disaster.

And if you’re making a small donation, let alone earning miles for it, that’s just a cost to the charity to acquire a potential future donor. They’re likely to spend as much or more over time to re-solicit you as you give. That makes sense for them, since a portion of new donors will continue to give and even give at higher levels.

Here’s what Houston Hobby’s runway 04/22, the longest of the airport’s 4 runways, looked like yesterday.

Five Southwest Boeing 737s managed to fly out of Houston Hobby airport on Sunday evening (not using runway 04/22!) with special permission from the FAA to airlift 500 stranded passengers out of the airport to Dallas Love Field.

The Southwest customers were stranded inside the airport when the FAA closed it earlier Sunday morning. All roads to and from the airport were also closed. It was unclear how many others were stuck at the airport.

Houston Intercontinental is a mess too of course. Even when the airports re-open operations won’t be back to normal. Singapore Airlines may have the most realistic take on the situation at the moment, “SQ52’s final point of destination, will be Manchester until further notice.” (Emphasis mine.)

Singapore Airlines Airbus A350 On The Ground in Houston

Their Singapore – Manchester – Houston flight isn’t continuing to Houston and they aren’t making promises yet about which day that service will resume. Their travel waiver so far runs through September 4.

I’m lucky living in Austin. We’ve had rain. Same with San Antonio. When you see flight cancellations running over 30% what’s really going on is:

  • Many of the flights are to and from other airports in Texas, like Houston (and Dallas storms became bad last night too)
  • Air traffic is limited and planes fly around weather and have more limited routes they can operate in

I had to fly out of Austin yesterday. I was originally on a United regional jet. Regional jets are generally the first to cancel when an airport’s throughput is limited. Larger aircraft with more passengers receive priority.

When United dumped my flight what I wanted was a mainline jet, heading to an airport outside the storm, on a plane that was already inbound to the airport. I moved to a Delta itinerary through Atlanta operated by an MD90 that had just taken off for Austin from Atlanta. We departed on time.

If I were trying to fly out of Houston that wouldn’t have been a help. The key would have been to drive out of Houston and fly from an airport further inland. But from an airport outside the direct storm impact, it wasn’t hard to make a good bet about which flight would go and even go on time.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The interesting stuff was in the last three paragraphs. You should try structuring your articles in reverse.

  2. Glad to hear things worked out for you.

    The big question Texans will have to answer once the recovery efforts are underway is if their individual locales have reached their limits in the face of intensifying weather phenomena – it’s crazy to think that the downtown of a major metropolitan area (4th in the nation) flooded.

  3. I’m nearly ready to build a new house…I want a weather station and a rotating webcam on the roof, things I wish my family in Richmond TX had right now. Water up into their garages but I think it subsided just in time early this morning…

  4. Apparently Expedia’s spam dept didn’t see the news of airport closures in the Houston area…I just got an email for great fares from IAH. Sheesh

  5. Humans have a natural eagerness to help in disasters. And conditions look pretty bad in Houston right now. But I agree with you; if you’re not “on site” in Houston (preferably in a first responder role), there’s little most of us can do to actually help. I guess you can send money for the next tragedy (kind of like making a donation to a deceased’s favorite charity). The good news is that Texans are resilient and prosperous, and they’ll take care of themselves just fine. I’m actually looking forward to my visit to Houston next month to see how well they’ve pulled through; I’m just glad I’m not there this week.

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