Most Southwest Airlines flights are going nowhere, and the frustration levels of dozens of travelers across the country are skyrocketing.
They slept in airports, spent hours on the phone trying to get a customer service agent, scrambled to find alternate flights, and shelled out money for alternate transportation to their destinations—or back home.
In the post-Christmas rush and chaos of severe winter storms, the Dallas-based airline canceled nearly two-thirds of its flights on Tuesday and said the disruptions likely won’t end for several days. Most other carriers have returned to normal since the storm, and the federal government has said it will investigate why Southwest is so far behind.
“I will definitely never fly Southwest again,” said Tre Smith, 34, of West Valley City, Utah, after spending hours stuck at the Las Vegas airport Monday.
Smith, a high school basketball coach, was among 19 travelers from his program who left Salt Lake City Monday for a tournament in Long Beach, California. They tried to make a connection in Nevada, but the flight was canceled due to weather and staffing issues, he said.
After eight hours at the airport, the team found hotel rooms for the night and rented four vehicles to try to get to Southern California in time for Tuesday’s kickoff.
“You should have seen the rental car line, it was crazy,” Smith said. “I try to be a positive person. The children are all together. We are a team. … It’s just been a bad situation. My kids have done a really good job staying positive and going with the flow.”
‘They were stranded’
Amanda Lara-Santos, 38, of Tomball, Texas, a suburb of Houston, said her family’s travel headaches began Thursday when her children, ages 22, 16 and 9, flew to Nashville, Tennessee. , to catch a connecting flight to LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York.
The children were stuck in Tennessee for hours after their connecting flight was cancelled.
“They were stranded,” Lara-Santos said. “They were not offered any food vouchers or travel vouchers. Nothing was offered as compensation.”
They arrived in New York at 3 p.m. Friday, nearly 24 hours after they were scheduled to arrive, Lara-Santos said.
But that was not the end.
On Tuesday, he learned that his return flight for Thursday would not take place, and the earliest he could book a return flight on Southwest is Sunday. She said her eldest son will have to miss work and the family dog will have to stay longer in a kennel.
“It’s a snowball effect for us,” he said. “This affects many things. Its a lot of money. I had to pay for those three [return] flights out of pocket. Now I’m frustrated and need to, at some point, contact Southwest.”
Experts said customers should know their rights when their flights are canceled to keep costs down and possibly get some compensation.
“The most sincere apologies are just beginning”
south west offered its “sincest apologies” to customers on Tuesday.
“With back-to-back days of extreme winter weather on our network behind us, the ongoing challenges are impacting our Customers and Employees in a significant way that is unacceptable. And our sincerest apologies for this are just beginning,” he said Tuesday in a statement.
The airline has said it would fly only a third of its schedule on the busy days after Christmas and, as of Tuesday afternoon, more than 2,600 flights, or 63% of Southwest’s schedule, had been cancelled. according to FlightAware flight tracking website. A similar number of flights have also been canceled for Wednesday, FlightAware Programs.
More than 3,500 flights scheduled to depart Wednesday have already been cancelled, with Southwest accounting for about 70% of them, according to FlightAware.
“There is literally no going back in 2022”
Marty Rusnak, 53, of Fort Worth, is among thousands of frustrated travelers. He flew to the Washington DC area to spend the holidays with his family last week and on Tuesday he learned that his flight home on Wednesday would not take off.
He said he couldn’t find another seat on a Southwest flight to Dallas until Monday.
Rusnak spent Tuesday afternoon trying to reach someone at the airlines to try to fix his problem.
“I’m up to 26 times trying to call,” he said. “There is literally no going back in 2022.”
Rusnak said he’s lucky he doesn’t have to shell out money for a hotel.
As backup, Rusnak said, he booked a flight for Friday on another airline, adding that it cost “a significant amount of money.” He has 24 hours to cancel that flight if he finds another flight on Southwest, noting that the backup airline will cost him.
“I have been a very loyal Southwest customer for more than 20 years,” Rusnak said. “I am totally disappointed with the way they are handling this.”
Ayla Erkan left Scottsdale, Arizona, last week with her 15-year-old daughter to spend the holidays with her family in Fairport, New York, near Rochester.
His flight home was scheduled for Thursday, but not anymore. She now has a flight booked for January 3rd and she will have to miss New Year’s Eve with her boyfriend and throw a party.
Erkan said the cancellation drove her crazy on Tuesday afternoon.
“I think it was at a 10 an hour or two ago. … I’m at an 8 now,” she said.
But unlike some Southwest clients, she has loved ones she can lean on for housing.
“My situation is not as bad as some people. Fortunately, I like my family,” Erkan said.