Thousands of people with cancelled Southwest Airlines flights are stranded at airports across the country, as are thousands of pieces of checked luggage – even if the owner never boarded a flight.
Some passengers reported being separated from baby equipment, medicine, and other important items because they did not expect to be separated from their luggage for so long.
When her husband rebooked their flight to Maui on Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest passenger Crystal Muoz had to sort through “easily 75 bags jammed together” at Honolulu International Airport to find her family’s suitcases.
She and her family are among thousands of people who have lost both time and money due to Southwest cancelling more than 2,500 flights on Wednesday, following approximately 5,600 cancellations on Monday and Tuesday, according to FlightAware.
Many stranded Southwest Airlines passengers were given little to no information on where their checked bags might be or end up in the immediate aftermath of thousands of flight cancellations, resulting in frustration and hundreds of dollars spent on hotels and clothes.
‘Meltdown’ at Southwest Airlines
On Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg Buttigieg told CNN that he met with Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan and that the airline will be held accountable for the “meltdown” and may face fines.
“I told the CEO that we expect them to go above and beyond to take care of passengers and address this,” he said.
The Department of Transportation mandates that airlines compensate passengers for bags that are damaged, delayed, or lost. This includes the contents of the bags, which can total up to $3,800. (although the airline can choose to pay more.)
Severe bad weather forced the airline to make operational changes over Christmas week, and while other airlines recovered quickly, Buttigieg told CNN that Southwest’s “system has really completely melted down.”
A Southwest Airlines spokesperson said that travellers can file a baggage report online or in person at the airport to be reunited with their luggage.
Southwest Airlines stated that they “will make every effort to reunite customers with their baggage at no cost to the customer.”
How are people locating their misplaced bags?
Sarah Farrell has been going to Denver International Airport every day since Saturday, hoping that her checked luggage, which was packed with toddler gear and Christmas presents for the family, will arrive.
Her family’s flight to Florida on Saturday to spend Christmas with her husband’s family was cancelled, and they were unable to rebook an affordable flight. This trip would be the first time her children would meet their cousins, a meeting that had been postponed due to the pandemic, she explained.
The airline’s baggage agents told Farrell that “they may or may not ever go to your destination… there’s nothing we can do.” She claimed she spent seven hours on hold with the airline’s customer service on Christmas Day, only to have the call dropped.
She is concerned that her belongings will end up in Florida.
Out of collective frustration, people like Farrell have taken to social media to crowdsource and locate each other’s items. By texting the phone numbers on luggage tags, Farrell has assisted owners in locating musical instruments, strollers, and car seats.
Taira Meadowcroft is one of the fortunate people who learned the location of her bag from someone like Farrell. Meadowcroft’s flight from St. Louis to Tampa was rerouted to Orlando on Christmas Day after she waited approximately 11 hours at the airport. She spent two hours at Orlando International Airport trying to find out if her bags had arrived with her.
“(Southwest) couldn’t say for sure where it would end up, but they said they’d send it to Tampa and call me when it arrived,” she explained. As a result, she drove more than two hours back to Tampa.
Meadowcroft received a text message from an unknown number on Monday evening informing her that her bag had arrived at Tampa International Airport.
“I definitely consider myself fortunate because I was without my bag for such a short period of time in comparison to others,” she said. “However, I’m grateful that nice person texted me because I had medicine in there that I forgot to put in my carry-on.” She claimed that Southwest never informed her about her suitcase.
Will people be reimbursed for any additional expenses incurred while stranded?
Airlines are not required by law to reimburse people for hotel rooms, taxis, or other non-airline ticket costs incurred as a result of cancellations, so it is up to the airline to decide. “We will honour reasonable requests for reimbursement for meals, hotels, and alternate transportation,” Southwest says.
Smriti Singh, who is stuck in Austin, has spent four hours almost every day since Sunday trying to find her luggage.