Gabby here, content producer for Bham Now and The Bama Buzz. Chances are, you either know someone who’s been affected by the massive Southwest airlines meltdown or you’re among them. In a seemingly unprecedented disaster, Southwest has cancelled more than 11,000 flights since last Thursday, 58 percent of the airline’s scheduled total, according to FlightAware.
I planned on being home in Birmingham by now, but I’m stuck in Texas until Sunday thanks to the recent events. Read on for my personal experience + what’s coming next.
What’s going on?
It’s the holiday season, so with winter weather and higher demand for flights, some delays are expected. As a Southwest frequent flyer, nothing could have prepared me (or anyone, really) for just how bad things got this year.
Devastating winter storms wreaked havoc throughout the North, shutting down air and even road travel for cities like Cleveland, Buffalo and Chicago. In the South, bitter subfreezing temps caused countless broken pipes and headaches in our neck of the woods. Even Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport suffered from burst pipes, putting a wrench in holiday travel.
While many airlines were able to bounce back as expected in the following days, one airline could not get their stuff together. Like at all. We’re looking at you Southwest. The typically beloved airline cancelled 62% of its planned flights yesterday, and according to a statement from Southwest, they only plan on flying 1/3 of the originally scheduled flights in the coming days as they try to get things back on track.
On the heels of wide-scale disruptions, we’re working diligently to Safely recover our operation & accommodate displaced Customers & Crews. We know this is unacceptable & sincerely apologize. If your travel was impacted, explore self-service options here: https://t.co/B6L8HR9Yqc pic.twitter.com/mLWndYMned— Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) December 28, 2022
Rumors spread like wildfire as aggravated travelers tried to pin a cause to the chaos. According to The New York Times, the answer lies in Southwest’s “point-to-point” route model that lets passengers fly directly from smaller cities and regions without having to stop at a central hub.
Plus, Southwest’s tech interface is far behind its competitors like Delta and American Airlines. When it failed, the airline couldn’t keep track of where its crew members and pilots were, which caused a domino effect of disruptions. Not only were passengers and luggage stranded, but pilots, flight attendants and airline staff as well.
Holiday travel headaches
As a loyal Southwest flyer for decades, it pains me to write this. But I’m afraid that after the mess I’ve gone through, they’ve lost a faithful flyer in me. With all the horror stories I’ve heard so far, I feel like one of the lucky ones—and that’s saying a lot. Here’s how it went down for me:
Wednesday, December 22: My original itinerary from Birmingham to Chicago to San Antonio was canceled. Understandably so, that’s where the thick of the winter storm was. I rebooked for the next day.
Thursday, December 23-Friday, December 24: My original itinerary had me leaving Birmingham at 7:50PM, connecting through Dallas and arriving in San Antonio at around 11PM. Here’s how things really went down.
- 5PM: Arrive at BHM. Smooth sailing so far. Check in and security are a breeze.
- 7PM: Flight is delayed until around 8:45. I have a while to make my connection still, no big deal.
- 10:15PM: Our plane touches down in Dallas, only to be met with a bit of an airplane traffic jam. The pilot comes over the speakers and lets us know that it’ll be at least 30 minutes until we even hear an update about when we can reach our gate. Passenger groaning ensues.
- 11:30PM: Still stuck on the tarmac. We finally got the news that our plane can head to the gate. Over the intercom, a very apologetic pilot let’s us know that our originally scheduled connecting flights should still be intact since it’s an airport wide issue.
- 1AM: After hours of delays, I was finally able to board my connecting flight to San Antonio. Scheduled to arrive at 2:30AM.
- 1:45AM: After another 45 minutes sitting on the tarmac, my flight pulls away for takeoff. And then, they announce that the flight needs new captains and it gets cancelled. We all de-board the plane.
At this point, babies were screaming, frustrated flyers were already telling anyone within earshot about their woes, dads were picking up the phone to speak with customer service. Spoiler alert: when you call Southwest’s customer service number they provide you with, you’re met with a dial tone.
Friday, December 24, continued:
- 2:45AM: You’ve seen the videos of excruciatingly long customer service lines, right? Luckily, the one I was in wasn’t quite as bad as it could’ve been, but I was still stuck in stand-still foot traffic for about an hour. When I get to the front, by some miracle, there’s a flight to San Antonio leaving immediately that they hand me a pass for.
- 4AM: I finally arrive in San Antonio, as a shell of a human. My mom is out front ready to pick me up, all I need is my bag.
- 4:45AM: They lost my bag. With whatever gas was left in my proverbial tank, I waited in line to get a claim for my bag and went home.
For two days I was left in the dark, living on a prayer that they had my bag somewhere while I put a hodge-podge of outfits together from my middle school closet. I ended up picking up my bag from a sea of luggage on Christmas Day. Not how I was looking to spend my holiday.
I thought that would be the end of my woes, but the night before my scheduled flight home to Birmingham, my flights got cancelled. The next available rebooking? Saturday, December 31st. Prices for flights from other airlines? At least $1,500.
I still haven’t been able to get ahold of Southwest, but as of this morning, I was finally able to find a last minute opening on a flight with Delta airlines on Sunday, January 1st. Happy new year to me!
When life gives you lemons
Luckily, my family lives here in the Lone Star State, so I wasn’t completely stranded. I’m able to work remotely, so I’ve made the most of a sour situation by working from cool spots around town.
Yesterday I started my day at a fun local coffee shop, Halcyon, in the Blue Star Arts District. On my lunch break I was able to take a beautiful scenic stroll along the Riverwalk, which is one of my favorite things to do here in San Antonio.
This morning, I stumbled upon a quaint coffee shop that doubles as a greenhouse—how cool is that? While I’ve gone through my fair share of travel nightmares, here’s hoping that my luck will begin to turn this weekend. I can finally breathe a sigh of relief knowing my flight home isn’t in Southwest purgatory.
Birmingham, this Texan misses you. Hopefully I’ll see you soon!