(NewsNation) — Southwest has canceled thousands of flights, leaving passengers scrambling for alternate plans. So what can be done for people who are stuck?
Travel industry expert Sandra McLemore spoke to NewsNation about what is going on at Southwest and what people can do if they’re stuck in the middle of the mess.
Q: What exactly is happening with Southwest?
McLemore: So what we’re seeing now is that Southwest has chosen because they feel like it’s in their best interest to only operate 1/3 of their routes. So that means two thirds, as we know, more than two thirds is canceled. And the reason they have to do this is they’ve got to move crew and aircraft. Southwest is not set up like other airlines, they don’t have one big hub like we see most airlines have. They built their airline infrastructure around communities dotted around the country, which means in a situation like this, they’ve got through everywhere, they have aircraft everywhere.
And they basically feel that the best way to move everybody is to cancel flights, get the aircraft in the right places, get the crew in the right places, and then they have some hope of being able to get things back to normal. But we’re seeing people who right now cannot get a rebooking until the first of January, the second of January. We also have seen Southwest suspend new bookings until at least the third of January.
And this morning I woke up to something that I hadn’t seen before from any airline, which is not allowing unaccompanied minors to fly right now. So if your child to unaccompanied, maybe from one parent to another parent or between families, they have not even actually allowed to fly right now. Very, very concerning because families have huge financial burdens. We learned during the pandemic that most American families have nothing but more than a couple hundred dollars in their bank accounts. Now they’re meant to sustain these huge delays with hotels and price gouging like what we’re seeing on car rental. It’s really, really disturbing.
Q: What options do customers have if their flight is canceled and they can’t rebook? Especially when rental car companies are now experiencing trouble as more people rent cars to get home?
McLemore: Take a look at private air company JSX. JSX, announced yesterday that they were moving aircraft from less busy routes into the really heavily impacted routes. So we’re looking at increased flights available and I checked myself yesterday, there are flights available every day, this week between places like Burbank and Denver, and Dallas, so lots of extra flights there every single day for this week, there’s still availability right now on all of the days on the most heavily impacted routes.
And then also my tip would be to look into regional airports. So perhaps where you might be trying to get home to where I live, LAX, LAX is really rough to get back into. You might want to look into Long Beach or Newport or Santa Barbara or even a Burbank, some of the more regional airlines.
But it is really tough without these car rental options available. Amtrak also has seats available. I did a quick check last night and there are seats available for most days this week in the heavily impacted areas. That being said, the costs are astronomical. And it is difficult when we see these families sleeping in the airport, they just don’t have a way to be able to pay for these new ways to get home.
Q: Is Southwest reimbursing people for expenses like hotels, cars, train tickets and things like that as they try to get home?
McLemore: So back in the summer, Southwest signed an agreement with the Department of Transportation that they would be accountable like all the other airlines. Secretary Buttigieg met with them yesterday. He said he will hold them accountable on their website this morning.
The latest update is send us your receipts. We’ll be as reasonable as we can. But there’s very clear direction there. I definitely recommend that people hold on to their receipts. And a top tip don’t just hold those receipts, photograph them, email them to yourself or text them to yourself and cross your fingers.