Hurricane Sandy affecting Southwest Florida economy too

Oct 30, 2012

The following article was published in the Naples Daily News on October 30, 2012: 

Hurricane Sandy affecting Southwest Florida Economy Too

By Laura Layden

Genie Cohen sat by the pool at the Waldorf Astoria Naples on Monday afternoon, but she would have rather been at home in Philadelphia.

Her business meeting at the resort has ended, but she’ll be here a few days longer than expected after being stranded by Hurricane Sandy. She’s one of thousands of passengers across the U.S. whose flights were grounded by the superstorm.

“I’m eager to get back home. Not that I could do anything if I was there. But there is a sense of anxiety of being so far away,” she said.

The economic winds of Hurricane Sandy will continue to be felt in Southwest Florida for a few more days. And those winds won’t just blow through the tourism industry: major U.S. stock and bond markets will be closed again today — for a second day in a row.

On Monday, about a third of the flights at Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers were canceled because of Hurricane Sandy, including all flights to and from New York. All flights were also canceled to and from Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark, New Jersey, Atlantic City, Boston and Washington.

There were 49 canceled flights at the Fort Myers airport Monday. That was out of 158 for the day.

More flights are expected to be wiped out today. Nationally, JetBlue Airways has canceled more than 1,000 flights since Sunday. The carrier closed its New York City operations Sunday night, with the last flight scheduled to leave at 11:45 p.m.

“We’re monitoring the storm closely and are adjusting our operating plans accordingly. We’re waiving fees for travel to and from the forecasted impacted cities throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast if customers want to change or cancel their flight,” said Mateo Lleras, a company spokesman.

JetBlue has canceled all of its flights to New York metros and Boston through Wednesday morning, which will continue to affect the local airport.

Passengers traveling anywhere on the eastern seaboard should contact their carrier for more information, said Vicki Moreland, a spokeswoman for Southwest Florida International Airport. The airlines and the media, she said, have done a good job of keeping passengers informed about flight changes so they aren’t caught by surprise and camping out at the airport.

“This is a dynamic situation. So people really should continue to check airline websites if they are traveling over the next several days along the east coast,” Moreland said.

With the limited number of flights at Southwest Florida International, Cohen, the visiting CEO of the not-for-profit International Association of Jewish Vocational Services in Philadelphia, said she’ll now have to catch a flight home from Fort Lauderdale to get home by Thursday, three days after she planned to arrive.

She said six executives didn’t even come to the Naples meeting because they feared they would be stranded. Her board was meeting with CEOs of various social service agencies.

Hunter Hansen, managing director of the Waldorf Astoria Naples, said no group meetings have been canceled because of the storm, but some vacationers have canceled their reservations. There’s no charge for cancellations related to Sandy because it’s “an act of God,” Hansen said.

Stranded guests will continue to pay the same nightly rate until they’re able to fly home, he said.

The effect on tourism from the storm, Hansen said, won’t be dramatic in Southwest Florida because the busy season is not yet under way.

Hurricane Sandy will also continue to affect the financial markets for a few more days.

This will be the first time since 1888 that the New York Stock Exchange will have been closed for two days in a row because of bad weather. The cause then was a blizzard that left drifts as high as 40 feet in the streets of New York City.

It’s hard to say what will happen when the markets reopen, said Paul Weinstein, a certified financial planner and managing partner with Weinstein Wilkes Financial Group in Fort Myers.

If Hurricane Sandy does severe damage it could send insurance stocks soaring, he said.

While airlines were swamped with calls, Weinstein said he didn’t receive any calls from clients Monday about the markets closing.

“I think everybody is kind of taking a wait-and-see attitude,” he said.

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