Airlines send planes to retrieve Canadians from Irma's path
Wednesday, September 6, 2017, 4:45 PM - Several airlines have launched an evacuation operation to get Canadians out of the Caribbean as powerful Hurricane Irma continues to churn in the Atlantic basin.
Air Transat sent a total of 10 aircraft to the Dominican Republic -- seven to Punta Cana, two to Puerto Plata and one to Samana, according to a news release published by the airline Wednesday.
"All aircraft should arrive in the Dominican Republic on the morning of September 6th, and passengers should be back in Canada in the afternoon or early evening," said Air Transat.
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The airline also implemented their hurricane policy for flights scheduled until September 11 for several destinations in Dominican Republic, Cuba and Haiti.
"The hurricane policy seems pretty clear, that they will reimburse all of the unused bookings at the hotel. I understand that the round-trip airfare is not reimbursed," Aaron Green, an Air Transat customer at the Punta Cana Airport told CTV Montreal.
"There is a question about whether it was going to be a tropical storm here in Punta Cana or if it would be the full force of the hurricane, so I think it was a good idea to wait until now. I understand that the hurricane-like weather is supposed to start Wednesday night, so effectively this evening, and the worst of it is supposed to be Thursday at 2 in the morning all the way until 2 p.m. Better safe than sorry, I'm happy to be leaving now."
Meanwhile, Air Canada said it plans on operating additional flights out of the Dominican Republic (Puerto Plata, Punta Cana, Samanda), Florida (Fort Lauderdale and Miami), and larger aircraft with more seats planned for flights from Cuba (Varadero, Holguin and Havana).
In order to bring customers home early, the airline has added extra flights for immediately affected areas, including Antigua and Providenciales, according to an update posted by Air Canada Wednesday.
"Air Canada is reviewing capacity requirements and working with Air Canada Vacations to ensure we have sufficient capacity to bring our customers home safely," the airline said.
WestJet said it was sending five additional planes to the Caribbean, including Punta Cana, Puerto Plata and Turks and Caicos.
Irma is a Category 5 hurricane that is the strongest-ever on record to form outside the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. It made its first landfall over the island of Barbuda in the Lesser Antilles early Wednesday morning, and is set to move over portions of the Virgin Islands toward Puerto Rico through Wednesday evening.
At least three people are confirmed dead after the storm hit the French territorial islands of St. Maarten and St. Barthelemy, according to the French minister for overseas territories, Annick Girardin.
According to the Government of Canada's Travel Advice and Advisories page, Canadians are to avoid all travel to St. Maarten, the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, Saint-Barthelemy and Puerto Rica. Meanwhile, travellers should exercise a high degree of caution for nearby areas, including Cuba and the Bahamas.