In scenes befitting a post-apocalyptic film, pictures have emerged of a barely visible Statue of Liberty enveloped in thick, orange-tinged smog. In fact, the entirety of New York City is currently shrouded in smoke which has drifted down from wildfires in Canada’s Quebec province.
Earlier this week, the city recorded the worst air pollution in the world and the air quality is currently deemed “hazardous” by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
In sad echoes of the pandemic, vulnerable New Yorkers have been told to wear masks and Mayor Eric Adams has urged citizens to stay indoors where possible. Meanwhile, the city’s three major airports have seen scores of flight delays due to poor visibility.
The worst of the city’s smog is expected to start easing today, but is now drifting across swathes of the Northeast, Midwest and South.
Here we run through what the wildfires and smog might mean for your upcoming travel plans and what to do if your flight is delayed or cancelled.
Are flights being delayed and cancelled?
So far there have not been the mass flight cancellations seen in other dramatic weather events such as Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption in 2010. However, delays are being reported at East Coast airports and the situation could escalate as the smog spreads across the country.
As the Canadian fires continue to rage, experts have said it’s difficult to predict where the smoke could drift next and its ongoing intensity.
Which airports are affected?
So far, New York’s JFK, Newark and La Guardia plus Philadelphia are the key airports affected by the smog, with some 800 delays reported on June 7. Meanwhile in Toronto around 250 flights have been held up. Inevitably, there’s been a knock-on effect on connecting flights, with the key hubs of Atlanta and Houston also seeing disruption.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said on Wednesday evening: “The FAA has slowed traffic to and from New York City area airports due to reduced visibility from wildfire smoke.”
Meanwhile, New York’s JFK airport advised on Twitter: “#JFKAirport is currently experiencing arrival and departure delays due to low visibility caused by smoke conditions in the region. Please check with your airline to determine the status of your flight and allow extra travel time to the airport.”
In terms of outbound flights from the UK, this morning (June 8) has so far seen only one flight delay (of one hour 45 minutes) to Virgin Atlantic/Delta Airlines’ Heathrow to New York schedule. Its flights from New York to London are so far departing on time.
Will my holiday be affected?
Even if your flight is not subject to delays or cancellations, if you’re heading to the US or travelling within the country in the next few days your holiday may be impacted by the health measures being taken.
In New York, one million masks are being handed out in the streets and zoo animals have been brought indoors. Public schools in New Jersey and parts of New York State are closed today (June 8) with outdoor activities moved inside in Washington DC.
It’s possible some shops and restaurants could close or shut early due to staffing shortages or stay-at-home-advice.
However, New York Governor Kathy Hochul said at a news conference that the situation should soon improve. “This is a temporary situation. This is not Covid,” she stated.
She also stressed that the city’s transport networks have high-quality air filtration systems that make them safe for travel.
What to do if your flight is delayed or cancelled?
If your flight has been delayed due to an ‘unpredictable weather event’ you are not generally entitled to compensation as this is not considered the airline’s fault. You may, however, be entitled to a small payment to cover food costs, and accommodation if your flight is delayed overnight
If your flight has been cancelled outright due to weather, your only options are to request to be placed on an alternative flight, or to request a refund of the original fare paid. Contact your airline directly if you do wish to claim a refund, but beware that in doing so you will waive your right to being placed on another flight.
If you opt for an alternative flight, it is your choice as to whether you take the next available flight, or to travel at a later date.
If you decide to travel at a later date, you may be able to claim compensation on reasonable expenses, such as overnight accommodation and a reasonable cost of phone calls. If you cannot contact your airline directly, you will be expected to pay for the accommodation yourself and then claim the cash back later. Keep your receipts.
If you are based in the US and your flight is delayed, check the CAA for your rights.
Read our guide to the eight things you must do now if your flight has been cancelled, here.