By Joe Brancatelli
August 31, 2008 -- Sorry for interrupting your Labor Day weekend, but I wanted to alert you to the fact that a convergence of factors are conspiring to make it a very difficult week ahead on the road.

First, most important and potentially dangerous, is the situation with Hurricane Gustav. If you haven't heard, it is now a Category 3 hurricane and barreling toward Louisiana at high speed. Landfall is expected sometime in the late morning or early afternoon on Monday.

Gustav is a huge storm and will be affecting Gulf Coast areas from Texas to Florida. Naturally, attention is focused on New Orleans, since it is almost three years to the day since Katrina drowned huge parts of the city. The eastern leading edge of the storm--the most dangerous--seems on track for the area. But the entire Gulf Coast may be adversely affected.

Needless to say, if you are planning to travel to the region this week, consider changing your plans. A mandatory evacuation is already under way in many Gulf Coast communities. All of the airlines serving the area's airports have suspended normal ticket-change rules and fees. Consult them directly or your travel agent for details.

You should also be aware that a storm called Hanna is forming east of Florida. It seems sure to develop into a hurricane as early as tomorrow and threaten the Atlantic Coast of the southern United States. Please keep your eye on this one if you are planning to be in the area later in the week.

Gustav is also affecting the Republican National Convention, which is scheduled to begin tomorrow in St. Paul, Minnesota. For a variety of legal reasons, the Republican Party must have some sort of convention to officially nominate Senator John McCain for President. For a variety of strategic reasons, Republicans don't want to be seen partying and engaged in partisan politics in the face of Gustav. And for an array of tactical reasons, they'd like to salvage as much of the original, made-for-television event as possible.

Rather than move decisively to reorder the convention, however, the Republicans are hedging their bets and that could scramble travel in the coming days.

This afternoon, the Republicans cut tomorrow's convention schedule to the bare minimum. But no plans or changes have been announced for the remaining schedule on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. If they cut the program or eliminate days precipitously, there'll be a rush of delegates and support people exiting St. Paul with no advance notice. That's sure to strain Northwest Airlines' hub at Minneapolis/St. Paul. So pay careful attention to what the Republicans will be doing because logistics are sure to be a problem and could ripple throughout Northwest's system.

Finally, please remember: During the first 15 days of September, all of the domestic airlines except Southwest will be slashing their fall flying by as much as 15 percent. Many of the cuts will be in place as early as Tuesday morning, September 2. But it's almost guaranteed that the airlines haven't reached everyone scheduled for flights that have been discontinued.

Assume there will be a disproportionately large number of confused, annoyed flyers who'll be clogging airport ticket counters and airline phone lines. This should slow travel next week in unexpected places and in unexpected ways.

On September 1, 2005, I wrote about how Hurricane Katrina had already affected and would continue to affect our lives. The column, Random Thoughts About a Tragedy, is available here. A week later, I offered some ideas about how business travelers could use points and miles to help with the challenge of moving and housing people displaced by Katrina. A few months later, in a column called How to Be Prepared, I made some suggestions about pulling together emergency preparedness kits for your home and your life on the road. I updated that column last year for Portfolio.com.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

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This column is Copyright © 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.