Oct. 26, 2012 at 4:06 PM ET
Travelers beware: Hurricane Sandy will likely make it a very tricky Halloween week for flying.
“It will have a fairly big impact on travel,” said George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com.
“Airlines in the past have pre-emptively canceled flights just to be safe rather than sorry and pay tarmac delay fines ... even if (the storm) goes out to sea, the airlines are going to prepare for the worst case to avoid fines and anger.”
On Friday, the hurricane was making its way toward the Northeast coast of the United States, with the entire region told to be prepared for potential flooding, high winds and even snow early next week. Sandy may make landfall anywhere between the Mid-Atlantic and the New York area and the storm will be moving slowly, boosting the chances for significant damage and messy travel conditions.
Airlines warily watched the projected path and began bracing for its potential impact on operations.
“We are in preparedness mode. We’re keeping an eye on it right now,” said JetBlue spokeswoman Sharon Jones, who was reached by NBC News as the airline was holding a meeting about the approaching storm.
JetBlue has already posted its fee waiver policy for Sandy, allowing passengers to change or cancel flights without penalty when traveling to or from certain cities in the Caribbean and Florida.
Meanwhile, United Airlines has issued a waiver for passengers flying to, from or through the Bahamas through Saturday.
“We will include additional airports and dates of travel as the storm's path is clearer,” said United spokesman Charles Hobart.
“We advise customers traveling next week through East Coast airports to sign up for flight status updates.”
American Airlines was watching the storm and determining what its ultimate path would be - flights won’t be canceled until the carrier gets a clear understanding of which cities will be affected, said spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan.
Any flight cancellations or delays on the East Coast may have a ripple effect on flights in other parts of the country, said Hobica, who is scheduled to fly from New York to Los Angeles on Monday just as some of the worst weather will begin hitting the Big Apple.
He advised people who are scheduled to fly into or from the region next week and who can postpone their plans to call their airline and try to rebook without a penalty. Carriers will most likely be accommodating, even if their waiver policies aren’t posted yet, Hobica said.
“If you absolutely have to get there, you’re just taking your chances,” he added.
Hobica also advised travelers who have bought tickets through sites such as Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz to call those companies and have them rebook, instead of calling airlines directly because the carriers’ phone lines may be jammed as everyone scrambles to change plans.
Also keep in mind that if you are stuck at the airport, hurricanes are considered a "force majeure" event or an "act of God" by the airlines, which means that cancellations are viewed as out of the airlines' control and the only thing travelers are entitled to is a refund, Hobica said. In other words, you may not get a hotel voucher.
Here are some more tips if you have to fly into or out of the region next week.