Main menu


Trapped by Southwest and Stuck with Unexpected Costs

featured image

Olivia Laskowski was in Nashville and was hoping to fly home to New York on Dec. 27 when she received a text message from Southwest Airlines the night before that her flight was cancelled. Four days and over $600 later, Laskowski and her Siamese cat, Pretzel, are finally back home in Brooklyn.

The text message from Southwest contained a link where she could see her other travel options. But when Laskowski, 25, tried to rebook with Southwest, the next available flight wasn’t until Jan. 11. his house on December 30th. Southwest told Ms. Laskowski that she will be refunded for her original ticket and plans to submit her JetBlue receipt for reimbursement as well. So far, Southwest has offered her 25,000 points for the problem.

“Sometimes you have extra expenses in life and you just ignore them and they are what they are,” said Laskowski, who works as a marketing manager for Partners Coffee. “But it’s the kind of money I’d really like to get back because as a young person living in probably the most expensive city in the country, $600 makes a big difference to me.”

Southwest Airlines canceled thousands of flights in December as bad weather disrupted vacation travel plans for thousands of passengers. But while the other major airlines quickly recovered, Southwest’s inadequate computer systems left many of its customers stranded for days. Others rented cars to complete their trips. Travelers also ran into debt from having to pay for unplanned meals, hotel rooms and tickets on other airlines. While the chaos of the Southwest has dissipated, many travelers are still dealing with the financial repercussions of having to make alternative plans to return home.

Southwest is offering customers refunds and refunds on flights Dec. 24 through Jan. 2 that were canceled or delayed more than three hours, in addition to the 25,000 points for each ticket, Chris Perry, a company spokesperson, wrote. in an email to The New York. Times. The points are worth about $300 in flight credits.

Airlines are required to refund customers whose flights are canceled or changed in a “significant” way, according to the US Department of Transportation’s website. The site, when detailing the obligations of the main airlines towards travelers, says Southwest is required to offer vouchers when a cancellation requires customers to wait three or more hours for a new flight, free hotel accommodations for those affected by an overnight cancellation, and free transportation to and from a hotel.

But for Dan Hughes, 53, who was traveling home to Oregon after spending his 26th wedding anniversary in Nashville on Dec. 21, a refund may not be possible because his travel plans were out of date for refunds.

“You arrested me in Denver on the 21st,” said Hughes. “At this point, you’re saying, ‘No, you’re on your own until the 24th.’

Mr. Hughes and his wife, who own a small pizza franchise, were scheduled to fly from Nashville to Denver and then on to Portland. But the Nashville flight was stuck on the runway in Denver for nearly two hours, Hughes said, and then he got a notification that the flight home was cancelled. He booked a flight and then another on Southwest that was delayed and then cancelled.

Finally, Mr. Hughes booked a trip on United Airlines to Las Vegas, which would then connect to Seattle. But he and his wife got stuck in Las Vegas. The couple ended up catching a Southwest flight to Sacramento and then back home to Oregon. They spent about $1,700 on the ordeal and still haven’t recovered the luggage with Mr. Hughes for sleep apnea. (Southwest contacted Mr. Hughes on Jan. 5 and said his luggage was found in Nashville.)

Additionally, Hughes said, he and his wife incurred expenses at their restaurant because they had to pay employees to do their jobs when they couldn’t be there.

“I just do what my business does, so it ended up being a bigger financial hit than we expected, not including the extra expenses,” he said.

Suzanne Durham, 56, had to use her bonus to pay the extra costs of her travel interruptions. When her flight from Boston to Nashville on Dec. 26 was canceled, she booked a new Southwest flight for the following Thursday and managed to get it moved to Tuesday. Still, she said, she feared it would be canceled (which it eventually did) and bought an American Airlines flight using nearly $1,000 in purchased points.

She ended up spending about $1,100 to $1,200 and was reimbursed $183 for her return trip on Southwest. She also received the 25,000 points offered by Southwest.

“I’m putting my gym membership on hold for a few months,” said Durham, who does promotion and marketing for a record label. “I don’t like being in debt.”

JR Jones, 29, had planned to travel Southwest from Sacramento to Seattle with his fiancée to see his family on Dec. 22, but the flight was delayed and cancelled. Southwest rescheduled the flight for Christmas Day, so the couple ended up renting a car for the 13-hour trip to Seattle. They hoped to fly back to avoid the long journey a second time.

Then the return flight on December 28th was also canceled and they had to rent another car to get back to Sacramento. The cost of the additional trip added up to about $1,000. For the canceled flights, the couple has so far received only Southwest flight credits, in addition to 25,000 points. Although the family of Jones’ bride was able to loan the couple about $500, they are awaiting a refund to pay them back.

“The rest will come out of our wedding fund, and hopefully we’ll get it back before the royal wedding,” said Jones, who works for an environmental engineering firm. “Otherwise we’re going to end up putting a little extra stuff on credit cards or something until we can recoup those costs.”

Michael Baxter, 47, was planning a family trip to San Diego for Christmas. Her 15-year-old daughter wanted to visit Legoland with her best friend, and the trip was her gift. But when Baxter’s flight from Tulsa, Okla., was moved to Dec. 29 on Dec. 25, he opted to borrow his sister’s Subaru and drive so his family could take their vacation as scheduled.

Although Southwest offered to let him and his family take the second leg of the flight, they couldn’t abandon the car. They were refunded the full cost of the flight. Still, the family spent over $500 on gas and had to book a hotel room on the way back, which cost about $400. The family lost $430 by missing the first night at a resort because of the long drive, as well like $130 on a car lease that was no longer needed.

Mr. Baxter and his wife are medical professionals and said the costs would not have a major impact on their finances, but the ordeal has taken its toll.

“It still hurts,” Baxter said. “My wife and I basically lost two days of vacation.”

The wife of Mr. Baxter emailed Southwest explaining the situation and was told that they would not be reimbursed for the additional costs. But now that the couple has calculated the full cost of the inconvenience, they plan to reach out to Southwest again.