Stranded in the Southwest and hit with unexpected expenses

Olivia Laskowski said she bought a new plane ticket for herself and her cat Pretzel after Southwest canceled her flight. (Desiree Rios/The New York Times)

Olivia Laskowski was in Nashville, Tennessee, expecting to fly home to New York on Dec. 27 when she received a text message from Southwest Airlines the night before her flight was canceled. Four days and more than $600 later, Laskowski and her Siamese cat, Pretzel, finally returned to their Brooklyn home.

The text message from Southwest included a link where he could view other travel options. But when Laskowski, 25, tried to rebook with Southwest, the next available flight wasn’t until Jan. 11. She bought a new plane ticket through JetBlue for $478 (including $125 for Pretzels and $80 for bags). December 30. Southwest informed Laskowski that he would be refunded for his original ticket, and that he planned to submit the JetBlue receipt for reimbursement as well. So far, Southwest has offered him 25,000 points for his trouble.

“Sometimes in life you get extra expenses and you just kind of write them off and they are,” said Laskowski, who works as a marketing manager at Partners Coffee. “But it’s the kind of money I’d really like to get back, because as a young person living in probably the most expensive city in the country, $600 makes a big difference to me.”

Sign up for The Morning newsletter from the New York Times

Southwest Airlines canceled thousands of flights in December as bad weather disrupted holiday travel plans for thousands of fliers. But while other major airlines quickly recovered, inadequate computer systems at Southwest left many of its customers stranded for days. Others rented a car to complete their journey. Travelers are also in debt by having to pay for unplanned meals, hotel rooms and tickets on other airlines. While the chaos in the Southwest has subsided, many travelers are still dealing with the financial implications of making alternate plans to get home.

Southwest is offering customers a refund for flights canceled or delayed more than three hours between Dec. 24 and Jan. 2, plus an additional 25,000 points per ticket. York Times. Points are worth approximately $300 in flight credits.

According to the US Department of Transportation website, airlines are required to provide refunds to customers whose flights have been “significantly” canceled or changed. The site details the major airlines’ obligations to travelers, saying Southwest is required to offer vouchers, free overnight hotel accommodations for those affected by the cancellation and free airport transportation when a cancellation forces customers to wait three or more hours for a new flight. and from the hotel.

But for Dan Hughes, 53, who is headed home to Oregon after celebrating his 26th wedding anniversary in Nashville on Dec. 21, a refund may not be possible because his travel plans fell outside the reimbursement dates.

“You had me stranded in Denver on the 21st,” Hughes said. “At this point you say, ‘No, you’re on your own until the 24th.'”

Hughes, who owns a small pizza franchise, and his wife were scheduled to fly from Nashville to Denver and then connect in Portland, Oregon. But their flight from Nashville was stuck on the tarmac in Denver for about two hours, Hughes said, and then received a notice that their flight home had been canceled. He booked a flight on Southwest that was delayed and then canceled.

Finally, Hughes booked a trip to Las Vegas on United Airlines, which would then connect to Seattle. But he and his wife are stuck in Las Vegas. The couple eventually took a Southwest flight to Sacramento, California, and then headed home to Oregon. They spent about $1,700 on testing, and they still haven’t returned Hughes’ luggage with the breathing machine for sleep apnea. (Southwest contacted Hughes on January 5 and told him that his luggage had been found in Nashville.)

In addition, Hughes said, he and his wife incurred costs at their restaurant because they had to pay employees to do their jobs when they couldn’t be there.

“I’m just doing whatever comes from my job, so it’s been more of a financial hit than we expected, excluding the extra costs,” he said.

Suzanne Durham, 56, had to use her bonus to cover the extra costs associated with the disruption to her journey. When his Dec. 26 flight from Boston to Nashville was canceled, he booked a new Southwest flight for the following Thursday and was able to reschedule it for Tuesday. Still, she said she was worried it would be canceled (it eventually was) and bought an American Airlines flight using about $1,000 in redeemed points.

He spent about $1,100 to $1,200 and received a $183 refund on Southwest. He also received the 25,000 points Southwest offered.

“I’m going to hold off on my gym membership for a few months,” said Durham, who works in promotion and marketing for a record label. “I don’t like having any debt.”

JR Jones, 29, had planned to fly southwest from Sacramento to Seattle with his fiancée on Dec. 22 to see family, but their flight was delayed and later canceled. Southwest delayed their flights for Christmas Day, so the couple rented a car for the 13-hour drive to Seattle. They hoped to fly back to avoid the long haul a second time.

Then their return flight on December 28 was also canceled and they had to get another rental car to get back to Sacramento. The cost of the extra trip added up to about $1,000. For the canceled flights, the couple has received only Southwest flight credit so far, an additional 25,000 points. Jones’ fiancee’s family was able to loan the couple about $500, but they are hoping to get the money back to pay them back.

“The rest will just come out of our wedding fund and hopefully we can get it back before the actual wedding,” said Jones, who works for an environmental engineering firm. “Otherwise, we’re going to put a little extra stuff on credit cards or something until we pay those expenses.”

Michael Baxter, 47, was planning a Christmas trip to San Diego with his family. Her 15-year-old daughter wanted to visit Legoland with her best friend, and the trip was her gift. But when Baxter’s flight from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was rescheduled from Dec. 25 to Dec. 29, he opted to borrow and drive his sister’s Subaru so his family could take the vacation as planned.

Southwest offered to keep her and her family on the second leg of the flight, but they were unable to leave their car. They were paid the full cost of the flight. Still, the family spent more than $500 on gas and had to book a hotel room on the way back, which cost about $400. The family lost $430 from missing the first night at the resort due to a long road trip, as well as $130 from a rental car they no longer needed.

Baxter and his wife are health care workers and said the costs won’t have a big impact on their finances, but the trials have been overwhelming.

“It still hurts,” Baxter said. “My wife and I basically lost a two-day vacation.”

Baxter’s wife emailed Southwest explaining their situation and was told they would not be reimbursed for additional expenses. But now that the couple has calculated the full cost of the inconvenience, they plan to contact Southwest again.

© 2023 The New York Times Company

Source link