Cli­mate change can al­ter travel

The Dallas Morning News - - Travel - CHRISTO­PHER EL­LIOTT chris@el­ El­liott is a con­sumer ad­vo­cate, jour­nal­ist and co-founder of the ad­vo­cacy group Trav­el­ers United.

When Kim­berly But­ton drove her RV to Glacier Na­tional Park in Mon­tana this sum­mer, she ex­pected relief from her muggy home­town of Or­lando, Fla. “We as­sumed that we’d have mild tem­per­a­tures,” she says. “We couldn’t have been more wrong.”

In­stead, the Rocky Moun­tains baked in mid-90-de­gree tem­per­a­tures. But­ton’s fam­ily camper, which didn’t have air con­di­tion­ing, felt like a sweat­box. “We were look­ing at each other,” But­ton says, “and say­ing, ‘How is it this hot in Glacier Na­tional Park?’”

As it turns out, this is more than a hy­po­thet­i­cal ques­tion for some­one like But­ton. She pub­lishes GetGreenBe­, a web­site about green travel, and has be­come in­creas­ingly con­cerned about the ef­fects of cli­mate change. She says that this sum­mer’s ex­treme weather was a wake-up call.

The South­west en­dured its worst heat wave in decades. Tripledigi­t tem­per­a­tures forced the can­cel­la­tion of dozens of flights at Phoenix Sky Har­bor In­ter­na­tional Air­port. It was too hot to fly. And then there were hur­ri­canes Har­vey, Irma and Maria, which dis­rupted even more travel plans.

“Weather events are be­com­ing more fre­quent, more se­vere and, in many cases, the sea­sons in which we worry about them are be­com­ing longer,” says Meghan McPher­son, who teaches at Adel­phi Univer­sity’s emer­gency man­age­ment pro­gram. “Much of our in­fra­struc­ture was de­signed to func­tion in the cli­mate in which it was cre­ated. Be­cause of this, roads that never flooded even 10 years ago are now flood­ing in ev­ery­day rain­storms. Our planes are un­able to take off in heat they were not de­signed to with­stand.”

Too hot to fly

Let’s stick with those grounded planes for a minute. Why couldn’t the air­craft in Phoenix take off? Jet en­gines pro­duce less thrust dur­ing a heat wave, be­cause the air is less dense, says Dan Boland, a com­mer­cial air­line pi­lot. “Less dense air equals less power, and when we have close to full pas­sen­ger loads it be­comes al­most im­pos­si­ble to safely take off at tem­per­a­tures above 100 de­grees.”

Fly­ing in hot weather is also more ex­pen­sive. Most take­offs can be achieved with reduced thrust, but as tem­per­a­tures ap­proach 95 de­grees, pi­lots must use the max­i­mum thrust avail­able, which re­duces en­gine life and in­creases the cost of a take­off by $500, Boland says.

The tem­per­a­ture in­crease has ram­i­fi­ca­tions on land as well. Ear­lier this year, Jes­sica Po­ci­ask, an ecol­o­gist and the founder of Want Ex­pe­di­tions, a tour op­er­a­tor, had to can­cel a tour to view harp seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence be­cause of a lack of ice.

Phyl­lis Stoller, who heads Women’s Travel Group, says chang­ing weather has af­fected her tour busi­ness. On her first March trip to Ethiopia nearly six years ago, the tem­per­a­tures at the higher el­e­va­tions were cool. Two years later, she says, there was no relief from the heat, even at 10,500 feet. “We changed our dates for the next Ethiopia tour to ac­com­mo­date this change and are plan­ning it for a win­ter month.”

Al­though there’s noth­ing you can do to change the cli­mate, at least in the short term, there are a few steps you can take to en­sure that dis­rup­tions are kept to a min­i­mum.

If you’re con­cerned about an early thaw this win­ter, for ex­am­ple, you can plan your ski trip for a time when snow is more of a sure thing — say, move your va­ca­tion from early March to mid-Fe­bru­ary. To steer clear of hur­ri­cane sea­son, take that Caribbean cruise in De­cem­ber or Jan­uary.

En­dan­gered des­ti­na­tions

The threat of global warm­ing may also in­flu­ence where you go. Greg Gerone­mus of SmarTours says more of his clients are ask­ing him about “last chance” des­ti­na­tions that are threat­ened by cli­mate change.

“We hear a lot from our clients that they want to see South Africa be­cause so many an­i­mals are en­dan­gered, and be­cause drought con­di­tions are chang­ing the con­ti­nent and way of life,” he says. “Venice is an­other ex­am­ple of an en­dan­gered des­ti­na­tion. With global warm­ing, the seas are ris­ing. Venice al­ready floods mul­ti­ple times a year, so it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore this won­der­ful des­ti­na­tion sees dras­tic changes.”

It helps to un­der­stand your rights when an ex­treme weather event de­lays your trip. Many travel com­pa­nies have “Act of God” clauses that let them off the hook for weath­er­re­lated de­lays or can­cel­la­tions. That fine print is in the air­line’s con­tract of car­riage or in your cruise line’s ticket con­tract, and it es­sen­tially means the com­pany can can­cel a trip with­out hav­ing to cover any of your ex­penses or even get you to your des­ti­na­tion. A good travel in­surance pol­icy can make your trip go a lit­tle smoother, what­ever the weather.

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