DECEMBER 29, 2022
When Marc Kruskol left his Los Angeles-area home last weekend for a cross-country flight he had no idea he’d be back home the next day.
Kruskol had planned to fly with Southwest Airlines to Charlotte, North Carolina on Christmas Eve, to visit his daughters and meet his 8-week-old granddaughter for the first time. The family planned to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah.
His 7:40 a.m. flight from Los Angeles to Denver was delayed about half an hour, he said, but otherwise went smoothly. But when he arrived in Denver, his trip’s second leg was delayed two or three times and eventually canceled.
The 65-year-old, who runs a public relations firm, spent the rest of the day trying to reach airline’s customer service phone line – which at one point disconnected after two hours – and standing in hours-long lines to speak with gate agents. One of them, he said, told him the soonest he could fly was Dec. 26 and that the airline would not cover the cost of a hotel.
Eventually, he began to consider going home. “…At that point, they had beaten me down into submission, and I was done,” he told USA TODAY. He snagged a standby spot on a flight to Burbank departing close to 1 a.m., took a Lyft to his car and drove home.
“I was literally on the same freeway going a different direction 24 hours later,” he said.
Kruskol was hardly alone. In the wake of a winter storm that disrupted holiday travel, Southwest canceled thousands more flights this week, forcing many passengers to get to their destinations by other means, while others got stuck where they were.
‘They’re typically so on it’
Christine Cronk had been visiting her daughter in Charleston, South Carolina over Christmas, and the two were planning to have dinner together before Cronk’s daughter took her to the airport Monday night. Cronk, 59, had not heard from Southwest but happened to check her flight status in the car and learned that her trip home to Nashville had been canceled.
“So I said, ‘Well, now we don’t have to rush through dinner,” Cronk said.
She tried calling the airline but got a busy signal. She rebooked at no cost on a Wednesday flight, but when she tried to check in the next day, she found that flight had been canceled, too, and the next available ticket was not until Saturday (Cronk was later able to move her Saturday flight to Friday, a day earlier).
Cronk, a frequent Southwest flyer, was surprised the airline had not contacted her, like it had days earlier when her departing flight was delayed by just five minutes. “They’re typically so on it for any little thing, but (it was) total silence this time,” she said.
As a paralegal, she can work remotely and has been staying with her daughter, so rather than spend money on a rental car, she opted to extend her visit.
Because Cronk left her car at the Nashville International Airport however, she is paying nearly twice as much in $16 daily parking fees as she would have otherwise.
It’s unclear whether she will be reimbursed, but she plans to look into it. Southwest will “honor reasonable requests for reimbursement for meals, hotel, and alternate transportation,” according to its website.
She said the experience likely wouldn’t deter her from flying Southwest in the future, and has tickets for her next trip. “I already have flights to go down to Florida and stay with my parents in January… so, we’ll see,” she said. “(I’ll) make sure I have my computer with me.”
As other airlines recovered from weather-related disruptions, Southwest continued to struggle. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg met with the airline’s leadership, and told CNN’s “The Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer” that “they indicated a number of issues that they’re having with systems, legacy systems for managing their schedule and where their crews are.” He added that the Department of Transportation would hold the airline accountable.
The airline said it anticipates returning to “normal operations with minimal disruptions” on Friday.
“We are encouraged by the progress we’ve made to realign crew, their schedules, and our fleet,” the airline said in a statement, which a spokesperson shared with USA TODAY by email. “With another holiday weekend full of important connections for our valued customers and employees, we are eager to return to a state of normalcy. We know even our deepest apologies – to our customers, to our employees, and to all affected through this disruption – only go so far.”
Southwest added, “We have much work ahead of us, including investing in new solutions to manage wide-scale disruptions.” The spokesperson did not respond to specific questions regarding Kruskol and Cronk’s experiences.
Other Southwest passengers are driving instead
Some travelers preemptively changed their plans after getting wind of the cancellations. Matthew Berrett was set to fly on Southwest to Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve to attend the 2023 Rose Bowl. But when his wife, Whitney, asked he’d if heard the cancellation news, his “heart sunk,” he said.
“We are huge University of Utah football fans,” he said. “And so we booked our flights, basically, two days after they won the Pac-12 championship game,” said the 27-year-old, who lives in Salt Lake City.
The middle school history teacher planned to attend with Whitney and his father Rob, whom he’d given a ticket as a Christmas gift, and Southwest’s fares were the cheapest they could find.
“Last year we drove there and back, and it was a long drive with a lot of people on the road and traffic and construction and everything,” he said. “And we thought we had outsmarted that.”
After days of monitoring equivalent flights online and seeing them get canceled, they opted to cancel theirs, which Berrett said he did easily through the airline’s app. Instead, they are making the 10 – or 12-hour with traffic – trek by car again, he said.
He is dreading spending so much time in the car, particularly on the return trip, but added, “The drive is a lot shorter if (the Utes) win.”
Even after factoring in gas and an additional hotel stay on the way to California, he estimated that the drive may be less expensive than flying, since they all received refunds for their tickets, mostly in cash and partially in Southwest credit. “Who knows if we’ll use it,” he said.
Courtesy of Marc Kruskol–
Kruskol said the airline told him his checked bag likely went on to North Carolina, but he spent Christmas Day at the beach in Oxnard, California. Later, he had dinner with his other daughter who lives nearby, and Facetimed with the others. He posted photos of the day on Facebook, including a couple of him by the water with a caption that read in part, “When life (and Southwest Airlines) gives you lemons…”