Airlines waive certain fees post-Irma, hundreds of students apply for financial assistance

Nearly a month ago, thousands of University of Miami students evacuated campus, some spending thousands of dollars on one-way flights, as the university prepared to face Hurricane Irma’s impact. Now, the school’s Office of Student Financial Assistance and Employment (OSFAE) and select U.S. airlines are offering assistance to students with financial burdens.

For senior Grace Gordon, the extension of the fall academic calendar until Dec. 20 frustrated her, since she planned ahead and booked a flight home for winter break. Gordon, an advertising and French double major, estimated she spent $1,000 because of Hurricane Irma.

Today, the university announced that American Airlines and JetBlue will be waiving certain fees for students with pre-booked flights.

Students traveling on American Airlines from Miami (MIA), Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport (FLL) or West Palm Beach (PBI) with original travel dates from Dec. 11 through Dec. 16 are eligible for fee waivers. The new travel dates must be from Dec. 18 through Dec. 23. Fees will be waived for one change per ticket. A fare difference may apply.

Students traveling on JetBlue in and out of FLL or PBI with original travel dates from Dec. 5 through Dec. 15 can get date change or cancelation fees waived. Travel must have been booked by Sept. 5 to qualify, and any difference in airfare will apply.

At an institutional level, students who spent on necessities such as “transportation, lodging and meal-related expenses” qualify for assistance. The OSFAE will pull money from wherever possible to provide emergency assistance to students as quickly as possible, OSFAE Executive Director Raymond Nault-Hix said.

For freshman Isabella Altilio, a Venezuelan native, a $1,350 ticket home has strained her financially. Altilio said because of her country’s corrupt government, financial strain exists for many. In Venezuela, money has become “extremely devalued.” Altilio said the amount she spent on the ticket converts into 27,000,000 Venezuelan Bolivars. Altilio, who has applied for the extra financial assistance, said she’s thankful for the chance to replenish what she spent.

“It is a good opportunity that the university is giving me to recover the money that for my parents is a lot of hard work,” said Altilio, whose father owns a plastic factory in Venezuela.

The OSFAE requires students to complete a 2017-2018 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, provide documentation of proof regarding incurred expenses during the time of Irma and “have remaining eligibility for federal assistance.” Nault-Hix said UM is allowed to distribute the funds because of an emergency declaration made by the Department of Education. These expenses, however, do not include personal damage that may have occurred during the hurricane, such as damage to one’s car or family home.

Altilio, a double major in biochemistry and nutrition, said she hasn’t completed her FAFSA application because, being an international student, she does not have a social security number. However, she said she has sent the university a letter and proof of ticket payment.

John Haller, vice president of enrollment management, said the OSFAE has received paperwork for hurricane relief from a total of 262 graduate and undergraduate students.

The deadline to apply for aid is Oct. 6. The university is aiming to reply to each request for aid within 10 business days; however, it depends on whether the student’s financial aid information is completed and correct.

Haller said the university will be providing financial aid to students on a case-by-case basis depending on their financial need.

To find out more about the fee waivers, students should call American Airlines at 1-800-446-7834 or JetBlue at 1-800-538-2583 and say they are a University of Miami student impacted by Hurricane Irma.

Students with questions regarding the university’s post-Irma financial assistance should call 305-284-6000 (option 2 for undergraduate students, option 3 for law or graduate students; medical students should call 305-284-6211).