Just weeks after a Southwest Airlines meltdown resulted in thousands of canceled flights and stranded passengers, the country’s air travel system was shut down on Wednesday because of an outage in the computer system used by the Federal Aviation Administration to screen pilots before takeoff giving information, briefly interrupted.
While the FAA system was back online within hours and flights were slowly getting back on schedule, passengers whose lives were turned upside down by last month’s Southwest debacle are still feeling the effects of the meltdown and counting the financial damage that they have suffered.
Passengers speaking to The Times said the fiasco cost them between $700 in one case (for gas costs) and $70,000 in another (for a ruined destination wedding).
“I’m trying to be patient and give them a chance to make things right,” said one of Southwest’s stranded passengers, actress Deborah Rombaut. “What bothers me is that I don’t have a schedule for when I’ll get the refund.”
Thousands of holiday travelers like Rombaut were stranded late last month when Southwest Airlines said its computer system, which tracks workforce planning, couldn’t keep up with a severe winter storm. Airlines were canceling flights at a far higher rate than any other major airline, according to the Department of Transportation.
Since then, the airline has given each affected traveler 25,000 loyalty rewards points, equivalent to approximately $300, and is issuing refunds and refunds.
“I’ve said it before, but I can’t say enough how sorry I am for the impact these challenges have had on our employees and our customers,” Southwest chief executive Bob Jordan said in a statement.
US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg called Southwest’s cancellation rate “unacceptable.”
As of Dec. August, Southwest canceled 59% of its flights, while other major airlines canceled just 3%, Buttigieg said in a letter to Southwest.
Travelers affected by the cancellations have been asked to submit their receipts for the additional costs incurred. Many have received their airfare reimbursement, but the process of counting the additional costs is difficult as potential passengers have had to travel long distances by alternative transport during a post-holiday rush.
Among the victims of the debacle is registered nurse Madeline Luzzo, who estimated that she had spent an extra $1,000 to get home to Los Angeles from Dallas when her debacle fell on April 14. 26 flights were canceled. Luzzo, her husband and sister drove in a rental car for 22 hours straight, switching drivers when the person behind the wheel couldn’t stay awake.
“It was terrible. I don’t recommend it,” said Luzzo, 31.
The rental car was $400 and they spent over $250 on gas. Luzzo said the trio ate nothing but fast food, which cost another $100. Then she had to pay two extra days for the dog sitter to take care of her pet at home.
“I’ve always loved Southwest because they’re a major hub and my family lives in Texas,” said Luzzo, who works at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “But on the drive back, my husband kept saying, ‘I’ll never fly Southwest again. I’ll pay an extra $200 to fly on another airline.’ And now I’m kind of 50/50.”
Kate Schelter and her daughters, 12-year-old Zoe and 9-year-old Mila, were en route to Universal Studios Hollywood when their Dec. 26 flights from Oakland were cancelled. When it became clear they would not be able to get another flight, Schelter’s husband drove the family car to the Oakland airport and she and her daughters drove south.
Schelter received a refund Friday for her canceled flight totaling $720 and additional expenses she paid for early bird check-in.
She also spent about $700 on gas, essentials she needed to buy for the road trip, and an Uber ride for her husband to get home from the airport.
While Schelter and her daughters did not leave Oakland Airport on a plane, their luggage flew to Los Angeles without them. She also had to pay for parking at LAX while the trio attempted to collect their luggage at Southwest Terminal.
“All in all it was an extremely stressful 24 hours, but after we got our luggage we were able to continue,” said Schelter. “Fortunately, I had flexibility in my schedule to make the six-hour drive home.”
Rombaut estimates that she spent approximately $1,200 getting from Sacramento to her Hollywood home, including money she spent reserving a rental car that never materialized.
Her flight on Christmas Day was cancelled, as was her next flight the following day. Southwest didn’t offer her a hotel, so she stayed at a friend’s relative’s house in Sacramento.
“I wanted to spend Christmas with my pets and roommates,” Rombaut said. “I ended up spending Christmas on my girlfriend’s mom’s couch.”
She ended up renting a luxury SUV—one of the last cars she could get at the rental counter. Rombaut met three other women who were also driving south from Sacramento, so they went on the unscheduled road trip.
Since arriving home, Rombaut has submitted her itemized expenses to Southwest. She has received several automated emails reassuring her that the airline has received her receipts.
As a member of the airline’s loyalty rewards program, Rombaut also received a Companion Pass from Southwest, which allows her to take one additional passenger for free plus taxes. Rombaut originally planned to take a trip to Hawaii with her roommate, but now she’s changed her mind.
“My roommate doesn’t want to be my companion,” she said. “And I don’t trust that they’ll have all their ducks lined up. I want to see how they behave. I’m not really ready to be stranded at an airport again.”
But other passengers lost more than just money and time as a result of the cancellations.
Katie Demko, from St. Louis, missed her wedding — a wedding in Belize, the bride-to-be told Insider.
Demko’s fiancé flew ahead to Belize and the two were scheduled to be married on December 11th. 30. But just as her plane was due to board in December. On October 27, the pilot announced that there were not enough flight attendants for the trip.
“I cried all morning on December 30,” Demko told the new online magazine.
Southwest reimbursed Demko for the missed flights and she was able to reschedule some wedding services like the photographer and decorations, but she couldn’t reimburse everything.
The resort where her wedding guests would be staying told her they couldn’t refund her or reschedule her reservations at such short notice.
She estimates her wedding party lost over $70,000 on the rooms booked.