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Maui disaster: What should you do if you have plans to visit Hawaii


Maui has been impacted by devastating wildfires fueled by hurricane-force winds. The fires have caused catastrophic damage and are heartbreakingly the deadliest in the U.S. in several years.

The worst fires occurred in West Maui, as the historic area of Lahaina has been completely devastated by flames that have not yet been fully extinguished.

Local officials issued a proclamation declaring essential travel only to the island of Maui and declaring a disaster emergency relief period at least through Aug. 15 and stated in an interview on CNN: “We encourage anyone with travel plans to Maui to cancel their flight … it is really a tragedy that we’re dealing with right now.”

President Biden has signed an emergency disaster declaration for the state of Hawaii, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will coordinate recovery operations.

Given Maui’s popularity as a vacation destination, numerous would-be tourists likely have upcoming trips scheduled, and given the scale of the disaster on the island, now need to make some decisions about their upcoming plans to visit in order to allow the island to focus on recovery efforts.

Here’s what to know and do if you have an upcoming trip to Maui planned.

Is it safe to travel to Maui right now?

It is currently not safe to travel to parts of Maui due to the multiple wildfires and evacuation orders that are in place. If you have a trip planned in the upcoming days and weeks, local officials are encouraging visitors to cancel or reschedule for a later time.

There are power outages in West Maui, phone service is down in parts of the island, and communications should be reserved for rescue efforts at this time.

Even when it is safe to travel there again, the island has limited resources and infrastructure. Trying to visit for a vacation at this time will yield a different trip than you might be hoping for and could, in fact, be a drain on already limited resources.

Kahului Airport (OGG) on Maui is open, but with hundreds of travelers in the airport still awaiting flights home, the focus will be to evacuate as many nonresidents as possible so that relief efforts on the ground can focus on helping residents who have lost their homes. In fact, at this time, some airlines are only flying empty planes into Maui in order to relieve the strain on the island and get the stranded tourists back to the mainland.

Residents and visitors with upcoming travel bookings are encouraged to check with their airline for any flight changes or cancellations or assistance with rebooking.

When might it be OK to travel to Maui?

At this time, it is unclear when West Maui will reopen, but the devastation to the historic Lahaina town is very substantial.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority recommends the following: “Visitors who have travel plans to West Maui in the coming weeks are encouraged to consider rescheduling their travel plans for a later time.”

The tourism board advises travelers with plans to other parts of Maui and the Kohala Coast on the island of Hawaii in the coming weeks to contact their hotels for guidance on whether their properties will be open at that time.

“In the days and weeks ahead, our collective resources and attention must be focused on the recovery of residents and communities that were forced to evacuate their homes and businesses,” the Hawaii Tourism Authority said.

It’s not yet possible to know exactly when Maui, especially the island’s western side, will be ready to support tourists, but near-term travel is not advised. For trips booked further out, start looking at the social media channels for your hotel or resort, as many are now posting status updates.

GRAND WAILEA MAUI, A WALDORF ASTORIA RESORT/FACEBOOK

Some hotels in other parts of the island, such as the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, have posted statements on their websites.

“We continue to closely monitor the spread of wildfires in Maui. Our immediate priority remains the safety and security of our guests and Team Members. Our thoughts are with all those who have been and continue to be affected by these wildfires.”

“At this time, Grand Wailea and our surrounding community are not affected by the fires. We are closely monitoring the situation and following all instructions and directives from our local and state authorities to ensure we are doing everything possible to keep our guests, staff, and community safe. At this time, Kahului Airport is open. For those with imminent travel plans, please contact your airlines for the most up-to-date flight information. We will endeavor to keep our guests informed as we learn more about the situation.”

Those with trips to Hawaii in the coming weeks who wish to proceed with their plans could consider shifting plans to another island with more infrastructure and availability, such as Oahu.

Is it safe to travel to other Hawaiian islands?

Travel to the islands of Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, and other parts of Hawaii Island are not affected at this time. There might be near-term capacity issues with so many tourists trying to relocate from Maui.

There was a wildfire near the Mauna Kea Resort area on the Kohala Coast of Hawaii Island that has since been contained, and restrictions have been lifted, according to local news reports.

If you have a trip planned to another Hawaiian island, it is likely unaffected currently. However, contact your hotel or check its website or social media channels for any updates should the situation change.

Airlines allowing changes to Maui flights

PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

In response to the fires, some airlines are adding more flights to help passengers evacuate. Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and Southwest Airlines have ramped up their outbound services, according to CNBC and a local news report.

During a press conference Wednesday night, Ed Sniffen, Hawaii’s transportation director, said around 11,000 passengers had already been flown off the island since the fires began.

American Airlines

American Airlines passengers can change their flights to, through or from Kahului Airport (OGG), at no cost for tickets bought by Aug. 9 for travel originally scheduled through Aug. 12.

New flights must be booked for travel Aug. 9-15 for the same cabin and origin/destination cities. Alternatively, AA passengers can cancel their originally scheduled trips and request a refund. This only applies to flight changes made by Aug. 12 for travel completed within one year of the original ticket date.

Delta Air Lines

Delta has issued a change policy specific to flights in or out of Maui’s OGG Airport.

“When rebooked travel occurs on or before Aug. 18, 2023, in the same cabin of service as originally booked, the fare difference will be waived. A fare difference may apply when the waiver is class-to-class restrictive, and the original booking class is not maintained in the rebooked itinerary. There are additional conditions and restrictions listed to be aware of.”

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines travelers can reschedule their flights at no cost for flights in and out of OGG scheduled between Aug. 9-20.

“You can reschedule your flight to new dates, no change fees will be charged, and we’ll waive any applicable fare difference and other fees related to changes or guest servicing on the same city pair for travel and same cabin of service,” per the waiver. “Tickets must be rebooked into the same compartment (Main Cabin or Business Cabin) by Aug. 18, 2023, and travel must recommence by Sept. 1, 2023, HST.”

Alternatively, these travelers can cancel their flights in exchange for a future flight credit, expiring one year from the original date of purchase. No change fees apply, but there may be a fare difference.

Hawaiian has increased the number of flights overnight to help people get off the island. Hawaiian’s CEO, Peter Ingram, announced that the airline is offering reduced $19 main cabin fares out of Maui to facilitate urgent travel needs, as reported by local news.

HAWAIIAN AIRLINES

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines customers with reservations to, from or through OGG between Aug. 9-Aug. 14 can rebook in the original class of service or travel standby for free, so long as the new travel lies within 14 days of their original date of travel between the original city-pairs.

Additionally, these customers can change their original departure or arrival flight to any of the below Hawaii airports without charge:

  • Hilo International Airport (ITO)
  • Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL)
  • Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport (KOA)
  • Lihue Airport (LIH)

United Airlines

United Airlines is allowing travelers to reschedule trips and will waive change fees and fare differences. However, your new flight must be a United flight departing between Aug. 8, 2023, and Aug. 16, 2023. The policy states that tickets must be in the same cabin and between the same cities as originally booked.

  • If your new trip is after Aug. 8, 2024, or is to a different destination, we’ll still waive any change fees, but you might have to pay a fare difference depending on the flight.
  • If you cancel or don’t take your trip, you can get a full refund.

What to do if you have a hotel or Airbnb booked in Maui

Most of West Maui is still without phone service, so you may not be able to contact your hotel to cancel your reservation. If you are unable to reach them, your next best option is to monitor your specific hotel’s social media channels and websites for any updates.

For example, the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort is still operating, per social media. Some hotels — such as the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa and the neighboring Hyatt Residence Club Maui, Ka’anapali Beach — are closed to arrivals and currently plan to resume operations on Aug. 13. However, that could change.

Also, see if you can review your hotel’s cancellation policy as specified in your initial reservation regarding rebooking windows.

For reservations in the coming weeks outside of West Maui and the Kohala Coast of the island of Hawaii, the Hawaii Tourism Authority advises travelers to contact accommodations directly regarding upcoming stays, as hotels will be operating on a case-by-case basis.

If you booked through a third-party online travel agent (OTA) or aggregator like Expedia or Travelocity, it’s important to understand the cancellation policy. The OTA still owns your reservation prior to your travel, so contacting the hotel directly will likely result in you being referred back to the OTA or travel portal for assistance.

If you have already checked in for a trip and need to make changes, you can work directly with the airline or hotel.

For those travelers who booked accommodations with Airbnb, the company has activated its “extenuating circumstances policy” for parts of Maui. Eligible guests with reservations will receive a full refund, and both hosts and guests can cancel bookings penalty-free, the company said on Wednesday.

Will your credit card or trip insurance cover changes? 

Generally, trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance will cover nonrefundable expenses, such as airfare, accommodation and activities, if you need to cancel your trip (or the remainder of your trip) due to a natural disaster, like the wildfires. However, credit card insurance policies can vary, so check the benefits guide for the card you used to book your airfare for specific exclusions.Also, note that you must have booked your trip before the natural disaster starts in order to be covered.So now that the wildfires are a declared emergency, if you booked a new trip today, it likely wouldn’t be covered. If you need to file a trip cancellation or interruption claim:

  • Check your credit card’s benefits guide to check if you are eligible for coverage and what the limits are.
  • Call your credit card’s benefits administrator or start a claim online.
  • Determine which documents you need to collect.
  • Submit the documents within the required timeline.

Related: 4 times your credit card’s travel insurance can help with travel woes, and 7 times it won’t

What to do if you have a cruise to Hawaii

PRINCESS CRUISES

For cruise passengers, it’s important to understand the cancellation or rebooking policy for the specific cruise line you will be traveling on.

Cruise lines might reroute to avoid Maui and affected areas. Per the terms of the cruise contract to which you consent before sailing, cruise lines do not owe you compensation if they alter your itinerary. If changes are made, you will be refunded for any shore excursions you booked through the cruise line that were to take place in the ports you’re skipping. (Check with your tour provider directly if you’ve booked a third-party excursion.)

TPG’s guide on what happens if a cruise gets canceled is the next place to refer to for guidance if you receive notice that your cruise is canceled.

A spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Line shared this statement with TPG regarding Pride of America, its Hawaii-based cruise ship, which sails weekly on a 7-night all-Hawaii cruise from Honolulu:

“We are deeply saddened to hear about the wildfires currently impacting the town of Lahaina in Maui. We have a very special relationship with the people and islands of Hawaii as we sail to the beautiful state year-round. It is a magical destination and one that is highly sought out by our guests for its natural beauty, culture and unparalleled experiences. We are closely monitoring the situation in Maui, impacting the west side of the island, opposite the Kahului Harbor, where we call. At this time, there is no impact on our scheduled itineraries. As always, our top priority is the safety and security of our guests and crew. We will communicate further updates as appropriate.”

Princess Cruises offered the following statement:

“Given the severity of these fires and their significant strain on local resources, Emerald Princess will cancel her scheduled call to Maui (Lahaina) on Monday, August 14, and will instead call to Kona.

As we continue to monitor the situation, we are actively reviewing the itineraries of our upcoming voyages. If any adjustments need to be made to our published itineraries, we will advise guests and our Travel Advisor partners.”

Related: What happens if my cruise line changes my itinerary or ship?

How to help support Maui’s recovery efforts

HAWAII COMMUNITY FOUNDATION

In collaboration with the Hawaii Community Foundation (HCF), state leaders and nonprofits, the Maui Strong Foundation is accepting donations to provide recovery and relief efforts.

“The Maui Strong Fund was created to provide community resilience with resources for disaster preparedness, response, and recovery,” according to the Hawaii Community Foundation. “The fund is currently being used to support communities affected by the wildfires on Maui,” with 100 percent of funds being distributed for community needs.

TPG and Lonely Planet have teamed up to donate $25,000 to the Maui Strong Fund, and if you also want to help, you can learn more about the organization and donate here.

Aloha United Way has established a Maui Fire Relief Fund on its website, auw.org, and 100% of the proceeds are directed to Maui United Way, whose partner agencies, such as Maui Food Bank, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, are distributing relief funds according to the community’s most urgent needs.

Donating miles or cash via airlines

Hawaiian Airlines has updated its website with a message allowing loyalty members to donate HawaiianMiles, which will be used to transport volunteers and staff to Maui. Up to 30 million miles in donations will be matched by the airline for the month of August, and you must log into your account to donate.

American is also supporting the Red Cross disaster relief efforts, and AAdvantage members can earn 10 AAdvantage bonus miles for every dollar donated to the Red Cross via its microsite (minimum $25 donation).

Bottom line

This is a devastating, life-altering event for residents of Maui, local businesses and also for the island’s tourism industry.

The most important thing to consider right now is the safety of everyone on Maui and helping those affected by the disaster, both by considering tangible donations but also allowing space and time for relief and recovery efforts.

Adhering to the requests of local government officials to cancel or postpone trips to Maui at this time is the best course of action.

Related reading:

Additional reporting by Caroline Tanner, Matt Mottiff and Meghna Maharishi.

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