Regular Flight Schedule Has Resumed, but Frustrations Persist for Stranded Southwest Passengers

Frustrations continue to pile up for the airline and its passengers in the wake of thousands of Southwest Airlines cancellations.
Frustrations continue to pile up for the airline and its passengers in the wake of thousands of Southwest Airlines cancellations. Kelly Dearmore
Last week, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines made the sort of national headlines no airline wants to make. It’s fair to think that goes double for the more than 1 million travelers affected by last week’s mass flight cancellations. A typical flight schedule for the airline resumed on Friday, Dec. 30, following four days when thousands of flights were canceled or delayed each day.

The fallout that Southwest has already suffered and the follow-up it must conduct seems to have only gotten started. As the cancellations were still occurring, a social media post allegedly written by a Southwest pilot laying out a litany of claims as to how last week’s troubles were the result of many years of misplaced focus and mismanaged resources commanded millions of clicks. Late-night television comedians Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers and Jimmy Kimmel each had fun with the airline’s troubles in front of their national audiences.

Reports are mixed as to how well Southwest will fare in the coming months, though the common assessment from industry observers seems to be that there’s a tricky road ahead, regardless of how well the recovery goes. If some jokes and an anonymous online post had been all of the blowback Southwest faced, they would’ve gladly accepted that, but there’s plenty more staring them down a week later.

Many of the lingering issues for the airline revolve around refunding the affected passengers. Lawsuits have begun pouring in, including a proposed class action suit from a pair in San Diego. The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee has said it intends to hold hearings on the matter too. Southwest announced it would give 25,000 reward points to anyone whose flight was affected last week. But again, that’s merely the beginning of what customers are looking for.

Drew Kennedy has had some, but not all, of his needs addressed by the airline. Kennedy is the singer-songwriter the Observer spoke to last week. He and his family, who drove a rental car from Virginia to San Antonio following their own canceled flight, received a refund of the points used to purchase their flight tickets plus the additional 25,000 points Southwest is awarding. But more than a week later, he’s still waiting for a response about whether the airline will reimburse him for the multiple days of a rental car he paid for.

If some jokes and an anonymous online post had been all of the blowback Southwest faced, they would’ve gladly accepted that.

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The same goes for local improv comedian Chad Haught, but he’s out even more money as of now. His flight from Charleston, South Carolina, to Dallas was canceled last week. Instead of waiting for five days for another available flight as he was told would be the case, he opted to rent a car and drive for 16 hours to get home.

The reward points he used to purchase his flight tickets were refunded quickly. He even received a pair of $150 vouchers as a sign of “good will,” he said. But he, too, is waiting for a reply on how much the airline will reimburse him for the additional expenses he incurred. Haught paid out of his own pocket for the rental car, gas, meals, parking and additional dog-sitting in Dallas that he hadn't planned on. He says those receipts have been submitted, but more than a week later, he has yet to hear back from Southwest.

Jacob Black, a commercial real estate agent from Plano, found his holiday plans thrown off schedule when his flight from Salt Lake City to Love Field was canceled as he was printing out his boarding pass in the airport on Dec. 26. His family's flight tickets had been gifted to them, which compounded the impact of the added expenses they would incur. Instead of the free flight home that day, the Blacks were given the choice between waiting three more days for a rescheduled Southwest flight or figuring it out using their own resources.

Opting to book their own flight back to Texas, Black says he spent $1,300 for two American Airlines tickets for a flight out on Dec. 27, the day after they were supposed to fly. Additionally, once the Blacks arrived at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, they paid for a ride-hailing service to take them to Love Field where their car was parked. They have yet to hear back from the airline about whether they'll have their extra expenses covered.

Southwest has set up a website for inconvenienced passengers to reschedule flights, locate lost luggage, request refunds and submit claims for various expenses to be reimbursed. Providing an update on its customer service efforts, Southwest stated, “Our teams are focused on returning baggage, processing requests for refunds, and reimbursing certain incidental expenses related to the disruption in travel in a round-the-clock effort.”
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Kelly Dearmore

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