Friends of mine who live in New Orleans were on the road heading to higher ground this morning. The New Orleans airport is closing at 6 pm this evening (Sunday). Continental Airlines and AirTran Airways have been adding larger aircraft to flights this afternoon, getting thousands of additional customers out of harms way. But what are the policies about nonrefundable tickets on most of America’s largest airlines in the wake of this hurricane.

Here is a quick round-up from news reports and the airline websites.

AirTran Airways

If you have planned travel to or from the following AirTran Airways destinations on the dates indicated below, you may adjust your travel dates or times, based on space availability, without a change fee or fare adjustment.

Impacted Travel Dates
Fri, Aug 29, through Tue, Sept 2, 2008

New Travel Options
Up to 7 days from originally scheduled date of travel

American Airlines
The airline speak in American Hurricane Protection Policy can be annoying, however, it basically says that passengers can get refunds for non-refundable tickets in the form of vouchers; make changes to their itinerary without additional charges if they make decisions within specified dates; depart early to avoid the storm; and change tickets to go to an alternative destination with some additional charges.

Continental Airlines

Customers booked on flights to and from applicable airports will be permitted a one-time date or time change to their itinerary without penalty for rescheduled travel. If a flight has been canceled, a refund in the original form of payment may be requested. Complete details are available at continental.com.
The fastest and most convenient way to change travel plans is via continental.com. Customers should enter their confirmation number and last name in “Manage Reservations.”
Customers may also call Continental Airlines reservations at 800-525-0280 or their travel agent.

Delta Airlines

Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) customers booked on flights to, from or through New Orleans and other select destinations may make adjustments to their travel schedule without penalty or fees due to flooding and high winds expected from Hurricane Gustav. The airline today plans to operate its regular schedule between New Orleans and Atlanta, along with three additional scheduled flights, to assist customers evacuating the New Orleans area.

US Airways

US Airways has relaxed ticketing policies for these markets, which are affected by bad weather. US Airways will waive the standard change fee, advance reservation and ticketing requirements for customers with travel to, from or through these markets on the dates above. See our revised ticketing policy below for rules and restrictions. Call 800-428-4322 for more information.
If US Airways service continues to operate to the affected destinations, you can make certain changes without incurring the standard change fee, advance reservation or ticketing requirements:

* You can move your entire itinerary up to seven days before or after the scheduled origination date.
* You can apply the full value of your wholly unused tickets toward the purchase of a ticket to an alternate destination, although travel must originate within seven days of the scheduled origination date.

Southwest Airlines

Due to the storm’s projected path as well as the airport’s preparation, we will temporarily suspend our scheduled service after 530 p.m. CT on Sunday, August 31. The resumption of our operations is contingent upon the availability of airport facilities and services.

Before checking in or proceeding to the airport, please contact Reservations at 1 (800) 435-9792 to check the status of your flight.

Southwest Airlines Customers holding reservations to/from MSY starting 12:00 p.m. (noon) CT on Friday, August 29 through the close of business Wednesday, September 3, 2008 wanting to alter their travel plans may rebook in the original class of service or travel standby (within 14 days of their original date of travel between the original city-pairs and in accordance with our accommodation procedures) without paying any additional charge.

Additionally, Customers holding reservations for a flight that is cancelled to/from MSY may request a refund for an unused ticket/travel itinerary.

United Airlines

Customers currently en route:

* May make one change to their return trip. Rules and restrictions regarding standard change fees, advance purchase, day or time applications, blackouts, and minimum or maximum stay requirements have been waived. Origin and destination cities must remain the same.
* Revised travel must be completed within 7 days of original travel date.

Customers who have not begun travel (wholly unused tickets):

* May make one change to their travel plans without change fees or advance purchase requirement for the same itinerary. Original booking code must remain the same.
* For a new itinerary, one change may be made without change fees.
* All rescheduled travel may be subject to higher fares if it does not meet original rule and booking code restrictions or is a new itinerary.

Customers with cancelled flights are eligible for a full refund. Policies also apply to Mileage Plus, consolidator and internet tickets.