What to do if you’re stranded in Houston because of Tropical Storm Imelda

Update: Due to flooding, George Bush International Airport (IAH) closed today, Sept. 19, at 1:30 p.m. CDT and will reopen Sept. 20 at 1:30 p.m. CDT. Houston Hobby Airport (HOU) remains open for inbound and outbound traffic.

Information from the FAA.

Tropical Storm Imelda is hitting the southeast Texas coastline hard. Some areas have received up to 35 inches of rain since the storm began, and hundreds of residents are stranded, waiting for rescue.

News outlets are urging Houstonians to stay home, citing the high risk of flash floods.

Image courtesy of Fox 26 Houston
Image courtesy of Fox 26 Houston

Travelers passing through Houston are struggling as well: Both George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and Hobby Airport (HOU) issued safety warnings Thursday morning as high water levels continued to increase. Local news station ABC13 tweeted a photo of a city bus stranded in rising water between the five terminals at IAH.

Around 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday, IAH officials stated that roadways leading to Houston’s largest airport were flooding. “If you have to pick someone up from the airport right now, delay your drive,” airport officials urged via Twitter. “The airport is open, we have power and restaurants are open, so your passenger will be OK.” The airport also reported that none of the parking garages have flooded.


By 2 p.m., flight delays from IAH were nearly four hours on average, with departure flights to San Francisco experiencing the longest delays around two hours on average. Flight delays to New York’s La Guardia airport (LGA) averaged 49 minutes while flights to Dallas Love Field (DAL) are experiencing delays of one hour, 43 minutes on average due to volume.

Information from the FAA.

Houston’s smaller airport has also been heavily affected by the water. “Hobby Airport is under a groundstop due to weather,” read a 10 a.m. ET tweet from HOU. “Flights are delayed. If you must travel to the airport today, please check roadway conditions in advance.”

Information from the FAA.

Hobby Airport is experiencing similar delay averages, according to the Federal Aviation Administration:

What to do if you’re stranded right now

If you’re currently stuck at either IAH or Hobby, the most important thing to realize is that your safety (and that of the people picking you up) is more important than anything else. Please sit tight, charge up your electronic devices, and take a deep breath. Then take a look at the credit card you used to book your travel to see if you’re eligible for trip protection benefits. Severe weather counts as a covered loss on the Chase Sapphire Reserve, for example, and coverage kicks in as soon as you’ve been delayed for six hours beyond your original scheduled arrival time.

If you’re trying to travel home to Houston, you’re probably feeling similarly overwhelmed, and it can be tempting to look into car rental options from Dallas, Austin or San Antonio. It’s a good idea to book your rental car reservation right now; available vehicles are going very quickly. Consider looking into rental car locations that are away from the airport as well; it may be worth an Uber or Lyft ride to find a car if everything has been booked. 

Before you drive into Houston, make sure you check the roadways to ensure they’re still open along the route you plan to take. Stock up on food, water and gas, and make sure your phone is fully charged because you almost certainly will hit delays. And always prioritize safety above all else — if the roads have water on them, the cliche applies: Turn around, don’t drown.

This is where points might come in handy: If you find yourself having to pull off by the wayside on your way, you might be able to find yourself a nice place to stay on points that will be nicer than a cheap motel. There are a number of ways you could book a last-minute stay, whether it’s with points from a hotel chain, using Hotels.com credit (or earning up to 24% back through CapitalOne), with HotelTonight.com or by using your credit card points to “erase” the charges for your hotel room.

If your upcoming travel plans route you through Houston in the coming days, keep an eye out for weather waivers issued by airlines. United, DeltaAmerican, JetBlue and Frontier have all issued weather waivers for travel affected by Imelda, and other airlines may follow suit. If you have an independent travel insurance policy, now is a great time to read the fine print.

Featured photo courtesy of FOX 26 Houston.