Southwest flight cancellations continue to frustrate holiday travelers Midway, O'Hare airports

Southwest cancels 70% of all flights nationwide Monday; will take days to recover

ByMichelle Gallardo, Eric Horng, and Stephanie Wade WLS logo
Tuesday, December 27, 2022
How long will it take to resolve these Southwest flight cancellations?
Southwest Airlines flight cancellations at Midway and O'Hare have left thousands of travelers stranded, and it could take a long time for things to get back to normal.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Southwest Airlines canceled thousands of flights nationwide Monday, leaving travelers stranded at Midway airport after the Christmas holiday.

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Southwest had canceled 70% of their total Monday flights by 7 p.m. CT, and have already canceled 60% of their flights on Tuesday, ABC News reports. Phone lines have crashed due to the sheer volume of calls and the airline's website and app are working only intermittently.

By contrast, American Airlines, which also has a hub in Chicago, has only canceled 12 flights Monday and nine Tuesday.

It is expected that it will take a week or more to recover from all of the backlog.

"I would just say I'm frustrated, like how could you not see this happening? Or how could they have prepared better for it?" said passenger Noelle Cormack, whose flight was canceled.

The Cormacks, of Naperville, are missing a cruise after their Southwest flight to Florida was canceled and the next available is three days away.

"We now have, are going to have to pay for our hotel because you had to cancel that as of yesterday. We can't make that," said Kathie Cormack.

The Southwest rebooking line at Midway was a five and a half hour wait.

Luggage continued to pile up at Midway's baggage claim, where hundreds of bags form a sea of luggage as far as the eye can see. But few are there to retrieve them. Bags are flying without their owners, and have been for days.

"Guess I should have just had a backpack 'cause now they're telling me the flight got canceled because they said there's not enough help, not enough stewardesses to manage a full flight. Now we're trying to recover our luggage but they're saying our luggage is going to the destination, to Raleigh Durham without us," said John Ruh, whose flight was canceled.

"I left New Orleans two and a half days ago. Cancelled. Delayed. Cancelled. Delayed. Cancelled," said Carolyn Irving, who was trying to find her bags. "Hopefully I can find my luggage because medication is in it. Gifts are in it. But you call, nobody's picking up."

Unlike other airlines, Southwest often flies point to point. Right now their planes are scattered in all the wrong places after last weeks' winter storm, which impacted not just their Midway hub but Denver as well.

"Southwest's problem is really is the system is out of kilter, and the snowstorm is moving, and they just haven't been able to reset the operation," said DePaul University professor and aviation expert Joe Schwieterman.

The U.S. Department of Transportation tweeted, "USDOT is concerned by Southwest's unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays & reports of lack of prompt customer service. The Department will examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan."

Southwest captain and union president Casey Murray told ABC News the situation was "catastrophic."

"It's been a failure at every level at Southwest. Our pilots, our front line employees have worked under enormous stress to try to get our passengers from A to B, but we were dealt a really bad hand as far as Southwest is concerned," Murray said.

The flight attendant union also released a statement, saying in part, "Southwest Airlines has failed its employees once again, the result of years of refusal to modernize operations, notes TWU Local 556, the union of Southwest Airlines flight attendants. And this time, it's on Christmas."

Southwest issued a statement addressing the situation, writing in part, "With consecutive days of extreme winter weather across our network behind us, continuing challenges are impacting our Customers and Employees in a significant way that is unacceptable.

"And our heartfelt apologies for this are just beginning.

"We're working with Safety at the forefront to urgently address wide-scale disruption by rebalancing the airline and repositioning Crews and our fleet ultimately to best serve all who plan to travel with us."

But according to one industry expert, passengers today may be entitled to more than that.

"Make sure you save those receipts because you're going to want to submit those to Southwest after the fact to see about getting your hotel, your meal, your taxi ride reimbursed, especially because it seems as though this is not a wave of cancellations that is weather-related the way it was earlier in the week," said Scott Kelly of Scott's Cheap Flights.

The lines to check your bag Monday morning were so long, Menda Speckels and her kids missed their flight back to Texas.

"We got here at 3:30 for a 5:20 flight. And the lines were just insane," she said.

It's been a nightmare for folks traveling over the Christmas holiday.

Hundreds of flights canceled each day out of O'Hare and Midway. Thousands, canceled or delayed nationwide.

And Monday is sadly no different.

"Got stuck here," Ayana Ortiz said. "Flight got canceled so now we're just hanging around waiting to see if they will re-book us."

Ortiz woke up early, got here at 3:45 a.m. and found out their flight was cancelled.

"A little frustrating," she said. "We chose the early flight in order to get back sooner and get in bed. But it didn't turn out that way."

Perhaps in worst shape, though, is Anna Kang. She's been trying to fly to San Diego since Sunday afternoon out of O'Hare.

"Two flights got canceled," she said. "I waited in line for about an hour and a half to book another flight at the other airport. So I went from O'Hare to Midway."

Only to have her flight cancelled here at Midway Sunday night, too.

"We found that out at about 1 o'clock this morning," Kang said. "So I've been up all night since yesterday. Here? Here. I've been here since yesterday around 8 p.m. last night."

Hit particularly hard was Southwest Airlines. That's evident at Midway, with Southwest seeing the longest lines at ticketing.

Frustrated passengers are now resorting to Plan B.

"So now we're driving back to Austin," Speckels said. "Seventeen hours. I was able to find a rental car. There was not many, but I was able to find one. So we're going to start back here in a minute I guess. Because there were just no flights? No. None at all."

The Chicago Department of Aviation released a statement saying, "At the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA), the highest priority is to create a safe, secure and efficient environment for passengers and employees.

"With the support of Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot and CDA Commissioner Jamie L.Rhee, CDA staff, and partners at the airlines and the FAA, Chicago's airports support increased passenger volume over the holiday travel period.

"Passengers should check flight status with their airline in advance of coming to the airports."

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