Florida Rental Companies Brace for Hurricane Irma

With Hurricane Irma currently battering the Caribbean and making its way to the U.S. East Coast, we talked to rental operators on what procedures they have in place to protect their staff members and vehicles.

“Our top priority is making sure that our employees are safe,” says Daniel Florence, co-president of Sixt North America. “Then we secure our fleet vehicles.”

As of Thursday, Sixt closed its U.S. headquarters in Fort Lauderdale and its downtown locations in Broward County, since they were part of the evacuation area. It also closed all of its Miami downtown locations.

“We closed up the offices and put plywood on the windows,” says Florence. “We wanted time to take care of our employees and make sure that our customers are taken care of, too. By closing early, our customers don’t have to wonder what is going to happen.”

For the customers who had reservations — or were planning to return vehicles — at these locations, Sixt sent emails and text messages to provide directions on where to return the vehicles and where to go if they still wanted to rent a vehicle. Currently, customers can get vehicles from Sixt’s airport locations in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and Palm Beach, according to Florence.

Additionally, Sixt customers can return vehicles to other cities, including locations in Tampa, Orlando, and Atlanta.

By Friday at 2 p.m., Sixt is planning to close its location at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The locations at Miami International Airport and Palm Beach International Airport will be closed by 3 p.m., according to Florence. The airports are planning to shut down by 7 or 8 p.m. Friday night.

“If we close our airport locations by 2 or 3 p.m., it gives our employees time to get where they need to be before the storm really starts to come,” says Florence.

When it comes to its unrented vehicles, Sixt is storing the majority of its vehicles — from its downtown Miami locations — at its location at Miami Airport’s consolidated rental car facility. The conrac has space to keep the vehicles under cover and protected, says Florence. At its locations in Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach, vehicles were moved to lots on higher ground — out of the evacuation zones.

On Saturday, Sixt will determine whether it needs to close its locations in Orlando and Tampa, depending on the hurricane’s path.

“At this point, we will keep our Southern Florida locations, both downtown and airport, closed through Monday,” says Florence. “We will plan to reopen on Tuesday the 12th, depending on the weather pattern.”

Economy Rent A Car is planning to keep its Fort Lauderdale location open until Fort Lauderdale airport shuts down.

“Over the last 48 hours, we have helped hundreds of customers by waiving late fees, easing early returns, and increasing shuttle frequencies,” says Alejandro Muniz, president of Economy Rent A Car. “Above all else, we value the safety and security of our customers and team members.”

“Our current plans are to close when the airports do, and to make sure we're keeping our employees and customers safe and sound,” says Mike Olson, vice president of marketing for Fox Rent-A-Car, regarding Fox’s five Florida locations. “We're waving fees for higher fuel charges and late and early returns to make sure people are in the best spot they can be with everything so up in the air.”

By Thursday, Hertz had closed its headquarters in Estero, Fla., south of Fort Myers on Florida’s southwest shore.

Carlos Dolabella, owner of First Class Rent A Car in Miami, has collected all of the company’s exotic and luxury vehicles from renters. “We’ve placed them in our warehouse,” Dolabella says. “Hopefully we will resist ‘the attack.’”

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