Jade Rodriguez says her family is planning a “surreal” trip to Japan for her son’s 21st birthday.
But they missed their flight to Tokyo after Southwest canceled their flight from Tuscon to LAX.
“If we had been notified sooner, we would have driven and made it,” Rodriguez told Insider.
An Arizona family is “in shock” and “devastated” after a last-minute Southwest flight cancellation caused them to miss their trip to Japan and leave thousands of dollars behind.
Jade Rodriguez told Insider that her husband and their two children are planning a “surreal” trip to Tokyo, Japan, because her 20-year-old daughter said she wants to go there to celebrate her 21st birthday on Jan. 2. Visiting Tokyo Disney and the Pokemon Cafe in Tokyo, taking the train to Kyoto and touring historic temples.
They planned to fly from Tucson to Los Angeles on Christmas Day, and then cross the Pacific Ocean. They say they were told their flight was slightly delayed, but there was no indication the flight was in serious danger of not taking off at all, and they were unaware of any ongoing disruptions Southwest was already experiencing.
But when they arrived at the Tucson airport, they were met with confusion and miscommunication by the airlines.
Southwest officials said they were still working to gather crew, but told passengers they needed to check their bags anyway. “It was just a lot of miscommunication. One attendant was saying, ‘We’re not getting to LAX,’ and the other was saying to check our bags,” Rodriguez said. “It was a complete mess.”
After all the conflicting reports, an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo was finally canceled completely about 7 hours before takeoff. It was about a seven and a half hour drive from Tucson to Los Angeles.
“If we had been notified sooner, we would have driven and made it,” Rodriguez said, adding that they tried their best to get on another flight, but couldn’t.
Their flight can only be booked on Wednesday at the earliest, but that would be a 20-hour journey and would cover the difference in airfare. This would increase their 8-day travel plan, leaving them in Japan for only five days.
“We’re just devastated. We’re just in shock,” Rodriguez said, adding that they had to unpack all their luggage as of Friday as they were still struggling to process the situation.
They are now trying to recoup as much of the trip as possible, including Southwest, American Airlines, a hotel in Japan and Tokyo Disney, where they already had tickets, among other expenses.
Rodriguez said they received conflicting information from Southwest, with one email saying they would receive a full refund and another saying they would only receive flight credits for future use.
They bought travel insurance for their American Airlines flight to Japan, and hope that means the full price will be covered. But Tokyo Disney, which is not owned by The Walt Disney Company, is generally non-refundable.
In total, Rodriguez said they made about $7,000.
They’re still hoping to plan a trip for next year, depending on how much they can get refunded or rescheduled, but aren’t sure when they’ll be able to make the trip work for the whole family.
Rodriguez is a teacher, so she was off work this time, but will likely have to try to get a job in the spring because her break doesn’t match her son’s. Her husband, who is retired military but still teaches at the base, took off work for this trip and will have to try again if the vacation is rescheduled.
Rodriguez said her oldest son is a “committed” college student to ROTC, a program that prepares university students for military service, so he has limited time to visit. He’s also a huge fan of Disney and Pokemon, which would be the highlights of the trip for him, so when I offered to take him somewhere else at the last minute, he just said no.
Rodriguez said in the future, even though he has travel medical insurance through the military, he might consider getting travel insurance for the entire trip, not just the big international flights. He also said he knows some may have more difficult experiences with chaotic flight cancellations.
“I’m grateful to live close and be with our family,” she said. “But it was really devastating.”
The family was among thousands of Americans facing canceled flights this week after the Southwest operation collapsed. The airline canceled more than 2,900 flights on Monday, nearly half of the cancellations worldwide that day. Disruptions to the travel industry have led to car rental shortages and soaring flight prices.
Reached for comment, a Southwest spokesperson said: “We apologize to all of our Customers affected by this disruption. Customers whose flights were canceled are entitled to a refund and are encouraged to submit reasonable claims for incidental expenses. Those individuals will be considered on a case-by-case basis.”
The spokesperson also said that affected passengers can get help through the travel disruption portal on their website.
Tokyo Disney, which owns The Oriental Land, could not immediately be reached for comment. The Walt Disney Company, which licenses intellectual property to Tokyo Disney, did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
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