About 11,000 tourists have been evacuated and another 1,500 were slated to fly out of the Hawaiian island of Maui on Thursday, after wildfires inflamed by gusting winds killed at least 36 people, destroyed homes and businesses and caused outages to cellphone service and power.
“Visitors who are on nonessential travel are being asked to leave Maui, and nonessential travel to Maui is strongly discouraged at this time,” the Hawaii Tourism Authority said in a statement issued late Wednesday.
The agency also urged travelers with plans to visit West Maui in the coming weeks, or the Mauna Kea resort area of the Big Island, where fires are also burning, “to consider rescheduling their travel plans for a later time.”
Here’s what travelers with an upcoming trip to Maui or other Hawaiian islands need to know.
What is the status of the wildfires?
President Biden on Thursday issued a major disaster declaration for the state of Hawaii and approved federal aid funding to support people in Maui County, which encompasses the island of Maui and several others. Officials have said the wildfires are largely contained, though heavy smoke and ash has lowered air quality and displaced thousands of people.
While the fires are no longer classified as out-of-control, they continue to burn in Lahaina, on Maui’s western edge; Pulehu, closer to its center; and nearby Upcountry, the elevated area surrounding the island’s highest peak, Haleakala, the Maui County officials said in a statement Wednesday evening. Firefighters are still tending to flare-ups, the statement said.
Road closures are in effect along a main highway on the northern coast of the Big Island because of brush fires.
High winds had previously been forecast into Friday morning, but the National Weather Service has since canceled that warning for the Hawaiian islands.
I have travel plans for a Hawaiian island other than Maui. Should I still go?
The Hawaii Tourism Authority said in a statement on Wednesday evening that travel to the other islands in Hawaii — Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai — and parts of the Big Island “are not affected at this time.”
But Oahu, home to the state capital, Honolulu, is mobilizing to support evacuees as airports become overrun. The Hawaii Convention Center, a few miles east of Honolulu’s international airport, is being converted into an assistance center with the help of the Red Cross. It will serve as a temporary shelter for those travelers evacuated from Maui who are not immediately able to return home, the tourism authority said.
Travelers may confront restrictions to outdoor activities as road closures persist in several locations across the Big Island.
What are major airlines doing about flights to Maui?
Airlines have been flooded with calls. Hawaiian Airlines is asking travelers to hold off on contacting its call center with less urgent questions as it tries to address customers immediately affected by the wildfires. The carrier is offering refunds and rescheduling at no extra cost for customers with flights to Maui’s Kahului Airport through Aug. 31. Other airlines have also implemented flexible cancellation policies and exemptions because of the wildfires, including Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and Air Canada.
Southwest plans to fly its typical daily schedule on Thursday, of roughly 90 flights for Hawaii, many of which run between the islands, according to a spokesperson, with additional flights to provide extra seats for travelers leaving Maui.
American added one additional Maui flight on Thursday to help evacuate travelers. The airline has said that travelers whose plans have been affected by the fires will be able to rebook without fees, or cancel and receive a refund. Delta Air Lines is operating on its regular schedule.
United has canceled reservations on flights to Maui, to use planes to return travelers to the continental United States. The airline also waived change fees and offered refunds to customers with plans to fly to, from or through Maui.
Travelers should note that if they purchased their flights through an online travel agency, like Expedia, they may need to contact that organization directly.
Can I still check into my hotel on Maui?
That could depend on your arrival date, and the location of your hotel. But getting answers about your lodging could take some time, as disruptions to cell service and power outages across swaths of Maui have affected hotel operations.
For those who planned to visit a property owned by a large hotel chain, the recommendation is to call the company’s corporate help line. Travelers with bookings at Hilton properties on Maui through Aug. 15 are encouraged to contact the company by calling 1-800-HILTONS. The company is also waiving any cancellation penalties through Aug. 14 for guests with Maui plans.
Several Hyatt properties in Maui have initiated emergency procedures, including evacuating the Lahaina Shores Beach Resort and Puunoa Beach Estates. The Hyatt Regency Maui and Kaanapali Ali have announced shelter-in-place measures, and have paused guest check-ins until Sunday. The resorts will refund deposits and payments for that duration. Travelers who booked reservations in the coming days with Hyatt are recommended to contact the company’s Global Care Center, and those who used third-party travel agents should contact their booking provider.
Outrigger Ka’anapali Beach Resort is offering guests the option to change reservation dates at the same rate, or to be rebooked at another location on Kauai, Oahu and the Big Island.
Buses are shuttling visitors out of the Sheraton Maui Resort in Ka’anapali, and the Days Inn by Wyndham in Maui is closed to guests, as emergency responders take shelter there. Company cancellation policies have been relaxed, a Wyndham spokesperson wrote in an email, and suggested travelers contact customer service at 1-800-407-9832.
One of the buildings destroyed in Lahaina was the Pioneer Inn, built in 1901 and operated as a 34-room hotel by Best Western in front of Banyan Tree Park, home to a famous 150-year-old banyan tree. The hotel’s staff and guests were evacuated, Best Western said in an email.
Are short-term rentals in the area allowing cancellations and refunds?
On Vrbo, decisions about refunds for cancellations are up to the individual hosts. The company in a statement issued Wednesday said hosts are able to cancel and refund bookings “without worrying about how it will affect their listing performance in future guest’s searches.” But guests have less flexibility, as natural disasters like wildfires, the company said, are not covered in its typical cancellation policy. Vrbo is advising those with upcoming bookings to contact their hosts, and their travel insurance provider, for more information.
Airbnb is offering travelers in parts of Maui a flexible cancellation option through its “extenuating circumstances policy,” which could result in a full refund on eligible stays.
Christine Chung, Derrick Bryson Taylor and Niraj Chokshi contributed reporting.