SoCal evacuees now arriving at SFO 

As Southern California wildfires rage on and evacuees stream into the Bay Area for refuge, many of the major airlines and popular low-cost carriers are waiving cancellation and change fees for ticket holders in the current state of emergency.

The infamous Santa Ana winds, which have been clocked by experts at more than 60 mph, have contributed to the roughly dozen blazes that have charred tens of thousands of acres from Santa Barbara to San Diego and prompted a mass exodus of nearly half a million people from the region.

A number of those refugees are making their way to the Bay Area via SFO. Though airport spokesman Mike McCarron and several airline representatives said they have no way of tracking those fleeing Southern California, airlines and the American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter are stepping up efforts to accommodate all travelers to and from the region.

Almost all airlines, including United Airlines, the largest carrier at SFO, Burlingame-based Virgin America, Alaska, American, Continental, Delta and US Airways are all allowing customers flying to and from southern California to change or cancel their flights, free of penalty charges. The waiver is available, in most cases, through the end of the month to cities including San Diego, Los Angeles, Burbank, Santa Barbara, Palm Springs and Ontario.

The greater Los Angeles area is the biggest destination point for domestic travel from SFO, airport figures show. Plans may have to change, business meetings may not take place and people may just need to fly sooner or later than they thought, United spokesman Jeff Kovick said.

"We understand added flexibility might be needed in this difficult time," Kovick said. "We want to be compassionate andmake it as easy as possible for people to change their plans."

Cancellation and change fees can be pricey. For flights on Virgin America, which inaugurated service to Los Angeles in August, the change fee in the main cabin is approximately $40 one-way, spokeswoman Abby Lunardini said.

The local Red Cross chapter has already sent 49 people and counting to Southern California, spokeswoman Jackie Wright said.

"We have not been requested to help with any local aid, but we are on standby for anyone who requires assistance," Wright said.

tramroop@examiner.com

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