“My husband and I can’t even log into the app or website to try their self-service rebooking, so we’re standing in a line with a couple hundred other people,” Colter said via DMs while waiting. “At least one couple in the line with us decided to rent a car and drive back to Texas.”
Airlines are required to provide cash refunds to travelers who decide to scrap their trips altogether if carriers cancel their flights, but some said that Southwest has attempted to circumvent refunds by means of last-minute rebookings instead.
Dawn Kelly, 45, also experienced the same issues while trying to fly from Las Vegas to Columbus, Ohio before Christmas. “That flight was delayed repeatedly for a couple of hours because they didn’t have a crew scheduled for it,” she said. “Finally, they canceled it for lack of crew and then everyone had to stand in a crazy long line to try to rebook.”
After several long waits and a few other delays and cancellations in between, Kelly was given a new flight route with two connecting flights. “It was almost like being held hostage when they wouldn’t cancel flights and let us try to book something else for hours when they didn’t even have a crew scheduled and had no idea if/when they would get one,” she said. “I think that was the single most upsetting part.”
Extreme weather has been responsible for some flight cancellations, and at least three people told BuzzFeed News that they were told a lack of crew members was behind the issues with their Southwest flight. Mitrovich said other airline carriers’ lines appeared to be operating “close to normal” while he was walking around different airports.
Southwest Airlines issued an apology on Monday in a statement.
“We were fully staffed and prepared for the approaching holiday weekend when the severe weather swept across the continent,” the carrier wrote. “This forced daily changes to our flight schedule at a volume and magnitude that still has the tools our teams use to recover the airline operating at capacity.”
When BuzzFeed News asked specifically about staffing, a representative for Southwest Airlines said, “We have flight crews and aircraft out of position after the storm … leading to some flights experiencing cancellations.” They did not respond to questions about how the airline plans to compensate affected travelers.
Kelly eventually called her wife to pick her up, scrapping her plans to travel for the holidays. Mitrovich spent $140 to book a last-minute hotel in Chicago. He told BuzzFeed News that they finally got a good night’s sleep on Sunday and did the Chicago Crime bus tour, and will be trying again to get home in the morning.
As of Monday evening, Colter’s flight was rebooked for New Year’s Eve.