CHICAGO — The baggage claims at Chicago Midway International Airport are still full of hundreds of pieces of stranded luggage Tuesday as travelers navigate more Southwest Airlines flight cancelations.
Passengers have to wait in line and one by one are allowed to walk their way through and try to find their bags and then show a claim ticket or ID to take them.
The suitcases were separated overnight and are now organized by what city they came from.
But some people said they have been through the line and still can’t find their bag, even though when scanning their claim tags it said it’s at Midway.
One woman said she was told there is a massive amount of luggage being stored in a hangar they can’t put out because there is simply not enough room.
All but one of the 245 cancelations Tuesday at Chicago Midway International Airport were Southwest Airlines flights.
The airline said it would continue operating a reduced schedule and fly about a third of its routes for several days.
Anna Maria Hernandez was supposed to fly to Denver last Wednesday but has been stuck in Chicago since the winter storm hit.
“At the last minute, they said Denver was at a gridlock so we had to get off,” she said. “I spent days on the phone trying to get rebooked. We got rebooked for today so here I am waiting and hopefully the third time is the charm.”
Hotels and rental cars have all been booked for days, so many people have been stranded at the airport.
One woman said she finally got a Greyhound bus ticket to her destination because she was done trying to deal with the mess.
Midway International Airport issued a thread of tweets Tuesday night about the issues.
The airport said additional personnel from Chicago O’Hare International Airport will come to Midway to help with customer service.
“There is a huge amount of work to return this national aviation system to normal operations, and we continue to urge Southwest Airlines to proactively communicate their progress with their passengers and the traveling public,” a tweet from the airport read.
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker on Southwest cancelations: Airline needs to take ‘immediate action to assist’
In a tweeted statement Tuesday afternoon, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said he is closely following the “ongoing challenges” with Southwest flights.
He said he has spoken with U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to express “frustration of the thousands of Illinoisans who have been stranded and missed out on quality time with their families or had to call off work because they couldn’t make it back home.”
Pritzker also said travelers need to be compensated “for invaluable loss of time this holiday season, on top of compensation for rescheduled flights, hotels and alternative transportation.”
His full statement is below.
For many, this is the most important travel time of the year and they’ve spent days struggling to reach their destination instead of with their loved ones. I am closely following the ongoing challenges consumers are dealing with regarding their cancelled Southwest flights. I have spoken with Secretary Buttigieg to express the frustration of the thousands of Illinoisans who have been stranded and missed out on quality time with their families or had to call off work because they couldn’t make it back home. The Secretary has informed me that the Department of Transportation is working to hold Southwest accountable for this debacle and restore the flow of travel.
Southwest Airlines should take immediate action to assist all those that are stranded and waiting endless hours for their flights. All travelers must be compensated for invaluable loss of time this holiday season, on top of compensation for rescheduled flights, hotels and alternative transportation. I also urge the leadership of Southwest to be proactive in communicating openly and honestly with their customers about the rebooking of future flights and what the airline will be able to handle in the days and weeks ahead.Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker
Southwest cancels more flights, draws federal investigation
Southwest Airlines scrubbed thousands of flights again Tuesday in the aftermath of the massive winter storm that wrecked Christmas travel plans across the U.S., and the federal government said it would investigate why the company lagged so far behind other carriers.
A day after most U.S. airlines had recovered from the storm, Southwest called off about 2,600 more flights on the East Coast by late afternoon. Those flights accounted for more than 80% of the 3,000 trips that got canceled nationwide Tuesday, according to tracking service FlightAware.
And the chaos seemed certain to continue. The airline also scrubbed 2,500 flights for Wednesday and nearly 1,400 for Thursday as it tried to restore order to its mangled schedule.
At airports with major Southwest operations, customers stood in long lines hoping to find a seat on another flight. They described waiting hours on hold for help, only to be cut off. Some tried to rent cars to get to their destinations sooner. Others found spots to sleep on the floor. Luggage piled up in huge heaps.
Conrad Stoll, a 66-year-old retired construction worker in Missouri, planned to fly from Kansas City to Los Angeles for his father’s 90th birthday party until his Southwest flight was canceled early Tuesday. He said he won’t get to see his 88-year-old mother either.
“I went there in 2019, and she looked at me and said, ‘I’m not going to see you again.’” Stoll said. “My sister has been taking care of them, and she’s just like, ‘They’re really losing it really quick.’”
Stoll hopes to get another chance to see his parents in the spring, when the weather is warmer.
On Tuesday evening, Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan issued a video and written update.
“I want everyone who is dealing with the problems we’ve been facing, whether you haven’t been able to get to where you need to go or you’re one of our heroic Employees caught up in a massive effort to stabilize the airline, to know is that we’re doing everything we can to return to a normal operation,” Jordan said. “And please also hear that I’m truly sorry.”
Jordan said the airline “will go above and beyond” to “take care of our customers.”
“Teams are working on all of that: processing refunds, proactively reaching out and taking care of Customers who are dealing with costly detours and reroutes, as just a few examples,” Jordan said. “Our plan for the next few days is to fly a reduced schedule and reposition our people and planes, and we’re making headway and we’re optimistic to be back on track before next week.”
The problems began over the weekend and snowballed Monday, when Southwest called off more than 70% of its flights.
That was after the worst of the storm had passed. The airline said many pilots and flight attendants were out of position to work their flights. Leaders of unions representing Southwest pilots and flight attendants blamed antiquated crew-scheduling software and criticized company management.
Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said the airline failed to fix problems that caused a similar meltdown in October 2021.
“There is a lot of frustration because this is so preventable,” Murray said. “The airline cannot connect crews to airplanes. The airline didn’t even know where pilots were at.”
Murray said managers resorted this week to asking pilots at some airports to report to a central location, where they wrote down the names of pilots who were present and forwarded the lists to headquarters.
Lyn Montgomery, president of the Transport Workers Union representing Southwest flight attendants, was scheduled to talk Tuesday with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has criticized airlines for previous disruptions and is now taking an interest in Southwest’s woes.
“I’m taking it to the highest level — that is how done we are,” said the frustrated Montgomery. “This is a very catastrophic event.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the transportation department said Buttigieg spoke with union leaders and the CEO of Southwest Airlines and conveyed “the Department’s expectation that Southwest meet its obligations to passengers and workers and take steps to prevent a situation like this from happening again.”
Late Monday, the Transportation Department tweeted that it would examine “Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancellations” and whether the airline was meeting its legal obligations to stranded customers.
In Congress, the Senate Commerce Committee also promised an investigation. Two Senate Democrats called on Southwest to provide “significant” compensation for stranded travelers, saying that the airline has the money because it plans to pay $428 million in dividends next month.
Southwest spokesman Jay McVay said the cancellations grew as storm systems moved across the country, leaving flight crews and planes out of place.
“So we’ve been chasing our tails, trying to catch up and get back to normal safely, which is our number one priority, as quickly as we could,” he told a news conference late Monday in Houston.
Bryce Burger and his family were supposed to be on a cruise to Mexico departing from San Diego on Dec. 24, but their flight from Denver was canceled without warning. The flight was rebooked through Burbank, California, but that flight was canceled while they sat at the gate.
“It’s horrible,” Burger said Tuesday by phone from Salt Lake City, where the family decided to drive after giving up the cruise.
The family’s luggage is still at the Denver airport, and Burger doesn’t know if he can get a refund for the cruise because the flight to California was booked separately.
The size and severity of the storm created havoc for many airlines, although the largest number of canceled flights Tuesday were at airports where Southwest is a major carrier, including Denver, Chicago Midway, Las Vegas, Baltimore and Dallas.
Spirit Airlines and Alaska Airlines both canceled about 10% of their flights, with much smaller cancellation percentages at American, Delta, United and JetBlue.
Kristie Smiley planned to return home to Los Angeles until Southwest canceled her Tuesday flight, so she waited at the Kansas City airport for her mother to pick her up. Southwest can’t put her on another plane until Sunday, New Year’s Day.
Smiley still doesn’t know what to think of Southwest.
“They like acted like (Tuesday’s flight) was going to go until they started saying, ‘Oh, five more minutes. Oh, 10 more minutes.’ I’m not sure what’s up with them. It seems a little off.”
Danielle Zanin vowed never to fly Southwest again after it took four days, several canceled flights and sleeping in the airport before she, her husband and their two young children got home to Illinois from Albuquerque, New Mexico. They made stops at airports in Denver and Phoenix and reached Chicago only after ditching Southwest and paying $1,400 for four one-way tickets on American Airlines.
“I remember saying, ‘Oh my God, we’re getting on a plane!’ I was honestly shocked because I thought we were stuck in airports forever,” she said.
Zanin plans to ask Southwest to be reimbursed for part of their original tickets plus the new ones on American, and extra spending on rental cars, parking, an Uber ride and food — about $2,000 in all.
“I don’t have good faith that they will do much of anything,” she said.