Hurricane Idalia brings fresh backlash to Airbnb

Airbnb’s cancellation rules have angered users who learned they wouldn’t be getting their money back after having to cancel their Florida stays because of Hurricane Idalia.

The hurricane has begun to impact the Sunshine State’s west coast, which sits in the eye of the storm. With winds forecasted to exceed 110 mph, the Category 3 hurricane is expected to hit multiple cities and potentially hit areas of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina before it calms down.

While the damage caused by the storm is to be determined, The Weather Channel anticipates that rising water levels will result in a storm surge of 10 to 15 feet high around the Big Bend region, where Florida’s Gulf Coast curves west into the Panhandle. On X, formerly known as Twitter, The Weather Channel cautioned: “This is a life-threatening situation. Heed all warnings.”

In the post, a map accompanied The Weather Channel’s warning, illustrating what would happen if storm surge levels hit their peak at high tide. If the storm surges occur when ocean levels rise and push inland, it may indicate a potential threat of flooding on each coast.

Two dozen cities have since enforced evacuation orders, including warnings to non-Floridian’s who planned on vacationing on Florida’s West Coast. However, the realisation has caused frustration among Airbnb users, who learned that the travel company’s policy does not allow for refunds due to hurricanes. One user took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to write, “Can you believe Airbnb’s policy does not allow you to cancel or modify our reservation due to a hurricane causing our flight to be cancelled due to TIA shutting down?”

According to Airbnb’s “Extenuating Circumstances Policy,” which serves to explain to customers “how cancellations are handled when unforeseen events beyond your control arise after booking and make it impracticable or illegal to complete your reservation,” customers are not entitled to a refund because of one specific caveat. While the website does include a list of potential events on its website, including “government-declared local or national emergencies,” as well as “natural disasters, acts of God, large-scale outages of essential utilities, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and other severe and abnormal weather events,” weather or natural conditions common in an area like hurricanes are in Florida means that customers are ineligible for a refund.

The website explicitly refers to hurricanes occurring in Florida during hurricane season as “foreseeable circumstances”. This condition doesn’t just affect Florida Airbnbs, as the entirety of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean islands are subject to this rule from June through November.

“Sooo ... you can be instructed by authorities to evacuate a hurricane zone, but @Airbnb won’t refund you for the extra nights?” another user wrote on X. “Seems surprising and off-brand to prioritise profits over guest safety.”

“Hey @Airbnb and @AirbnbHelp the management company won’t return my messages and a hurricane during hurricane season is not a refundable event?” another user chimed in. “So my family is expected to drive into the eye of the storm tomorrow over $2,000? You really want that liability?”

One user highlighted the fact that hundreds of listings in Florida are allegedly still up on the website despite evacuation orders, even in areas like the Keys, which have been predicted to be highly impacted by the hurricane. The user wrote on X: “There are 126 places available in #CedarKey which is facing deadly 10-15 feet storm surge inundation - that’s just one area in the #Idalia danger zone.”

While Airbnb policy states that under these circumstances they will not automatically give refunds to customers if they cancel, Bloomberg reported that individual hosts can make the personal decision whether or not to fully refund the customers. Hosts also can be reportedly penalised if they cancel a booking, facing fees between $50 and $1,000.

An Airbnb spokesperson told Insider that guests who are searching for hosts with more flexible cancellation policies can use the website’s search filter to find those listings.

A spokesperson from Airbnb told The Independent that they are “closely monitoring the situation” and that “as of now, Hosts with eligible reservations in areas of Florida anticipated to be impacted can cancel those bookings without fees or other consequences, and this includes a full refund for their guests”.

The spokesperson also noted that, as of now, its “extenuating circumstances policy is currently not in effect”.