HomeReviewSouthwest Airlines Winter Meltdown

Southwest Airlines Winter Meltdown

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Oh, the shit show that was my holiday travel with Southwest.  To be fair, I got off much better than many, many travelers this holiday season, but here was my experience along with a few funny stories. 

It started on Monday, December 19th.  All was normal when I dropped off my wife and child for a 7:55am Southwest flight from Phoenix to Midway.  They got out with no issues.  A few hours after arriving in Chicago, I got a call from my wife.  She warned that a number of people traveling on Southwest were getting text messages and emails warning that Winter Storm Elliot might disrupt their holiday flights and, if they had flexible travel arraignments, to call Southwest and alter their flights.  That’s exactly what I did around noon on Monday. 

I called Southwest and explained that I could fly anytime from Wednesday morning to the time of my scheduled flight at 5pm on Friday, December 23rd.  The call-taker recommended I get in before the storm and recommended a 7:55am flight on Thursday, December 22nd.  I pushed back a little, telling the Southwest person that, according to the weather reports, that would put me in near the peak of the snow and that my original Friday flight looked like it would put me in after the storm.  I was assured the Thursday morning flight would work better, so I had them change it at no cost. 

On Wednesday, as I was trying to get checked into my flight I got an email telling me that my flight was cancelled for Thursday and that I was rebooked on . . . wait for it . . . the original flight I had for Friday evening. 

Then, on Thursday I sat at home and watched a live video feed of Midway Airport around 12:55pm, when my cancelled flight would have been landing, only to see dozens of planes landing, but very few Southwest ones.  Several Southwest aircraft were leaving.  It was snowing, but only moderately and winds had not picked up yet.  It should also be noted, that according to FlightRadar24.com, O’Hare was rocking and rolling as far as landing flights.

Right about this time I got another text telling me that now my Friday flight had been cancelled also.  This was about 11am.   

Southwest’s iPhone application failed during the rebooking process.

I started trying to get a hold of Southwest, as I noticed that this time Southwest did not automatically rebook me on another flight.  This began the official shit show.  There was no contacting Southwest.  I first tried to rebook on their app, which gave me multiple error messages.  Then their website, which was also down.  While doing both of those, I was on hold via the telephone.  I called four times, each time waiting for over an hour, only to then be met by a fast busy signal and disconnected.  I tried the app, site and phone lines for about five hours with zero luck.  Around 4pm I started looking for alternative airlines to get out on, as the writing was on the wall, Southwest was in full meltdown mode.  After about an hour, I was very lucky and found a moderately expensive flight on American leaving in just a few hours.  Turns out the price gouging to come had not yet started.  I booked the flight, jumped into the car and drove right to the airport. 

My plan was to jump on the American flight and then speak with Southwest in-person, as their ticketing was across from each other.  American had zero line, while it was full-on chaos at Southwest.  I got checked into my American flight in about two minutes and was assured it was going.  I then walked up to the people near the front of the terminal long line at Southwest and asked how long they had been waiting.  I was told just over 2.5 hours.

American Airlines ticket counter was totally empty while just across the room Southwest had a 2.5 hour wait.

As I waited for the two hours for my American flight to board, I was on hold with Southwest.  No luck.  We got boarded on our O’Hare bound flight and got delayed for about an hour.  During that time I was MF’n Southwest on Twitter and got a DM. 

Crazy as it sounds, I managed to get my outbound flight refunded and was only offered points in return. 

My American flight landed without issue at O’Hare at approximately 1:45am.  Just before taking off, my wife and I decided it was too late to drive the 1+ hour drive from NW Indiana to O’Hare and I asked her to book me a hotel near the airport.  When I landed, she was already asleep and emailed all the hotel info and notified me that the Hyatt Place Chicago/O’Hare Airport had a 24-hour shuttle.

O’Hare looked awesome, right until we entered a scene from The Walking Dead at baggage claim.

This is when the second round of fun began because Chicago has turned into a shithole city, run by a moron.  There were a number of travelers sleeping at the Gates, but their numbers did not compare to the number of homeless that Chicago allowed to sleep in the baggage claim area of the airport.  There were probably between 200-300, half of them sleeping while the other half were walking around, screaming, masturbating, harassing passengers trying to get their luggage and/or going off on drug-fueled rants.  It was like a scene from The Walking Dead.  I saw a total of four Chicago Police Officers working the area . . . all of which were doing absolutely JACK SHIT to help the situation. 

That’s when some crackhead decided to get in the face of a 30-ish year old mom with her infant, who appeared to just have learned how to walk.  She weighed about 97 pounds.  When, we’ll call him “Pookey” started harassing her for a cigarette, I stepped in.  Long story short, it took three very loud interactions with Pookey before the Chicago Police, who were standing 15 feet away, took any action. 

For the next thirty minutes all 150 or so passengers waiting for their bags had to endure being accosted by the homeless while CPD stood and watched.  I was amazed that this was the standard by which people in Chicago have to live with today. 

After getting my bags I had to navigate through The Walking Dead to find the Hyatt’s shuttle.  I was told it was at Door 1, expect there is no Door 1.  The doors in our Terminal are not numbers and two different employees had no idea what shuttle I was talking about. 

I decided to walk the 500 or so yards in the 50mph gusting winds to the Hilton attached to the airport since nobody inside the airport could help me.  I found nothing but locked doors.  After banging on the windows, the two people working the counter let me in.  They directed me to a shuttle bus across the street.  After shuffling back outside and getting to the van, I found the driver asleep.  I had to pound on the window for about two minutes before he woke up and unlocked the door for me.  I was then transported to the Hyatt. 

It was now about 3am.  I spoke with the two women working the counter at the Hyatt, only to learn my reservation was at the other Hyatt.  I learned there are three Hyatts withing three miles of the airport and that I was at the Hyatt Place, while I  needed the Hyatt Place Chicago O’Hare.  WTF.  Seriously.  I asked if the Hyatt shuttle could take me there.  I was told NO.  That I had to find either a cab or Uber.  When I asked, they refused to help me get a cab, telling me they had no connection to a cab company.  When I asked why the shuttle couldn’t just drive me the mile, they explained that they were not associated with the other Hyatt and the shuttle I took belonged to them.  Oh, they also told me that did not have a single room to give me, which I find very, very hard to believe.  Fuck right off Hyatt. 

I spent about 45 minutes trying to find a ride without luck.  By this time I just decided to sleep in the lobby of the hotel and the Hyatt could call the police to have me removed if they wanted to.  I sat down on the couch I planned on sleeping and look at Uber one more time.  ONE, single Uber was three minutes away.  Somehow, I managed to get him.  Turns out he was an American employee that left his house early to drive to work for his 3:30am start time and found the streets clear.  He got to work an hour early and fired up his Uber app to see if he could grab a quick passenger. 

I finally arrived at the correct Hyatt, again, only to find the doors locked and nobody in the lobby.  I stood outside banging on the doors for about 10 minutes freezing my ass off.  There was only one open building around, which was a gas station about a quarter of a mile back down the road.  I tossed my suitcase into the bushes, as there was no way I was going to pull it through the snow.  Side note, I had broken my arm the Sunday before and was dealing with it during this whole ordeal.  When I tossed my suitcase it hit the window and someone inside heard it.  The employee let me in, checked me into my room and I got up to it around 3:45am.  I jumped right into bed in all my clothes. 

My wife and brother-in-law drove the hour+ to the hotel and got me the next afternoon. I should note that I woke up Friday morning to almost clear skies around Chicago, no active some, some blowing snow, moderate winds and very cold temps. My hotel was right under the runway of O’Hare so I got to watch plane after plane land while Southwest was still telling passengers that it was too dangerous to fly.  

The view from my hotel room. Note the clear roads, partly cloudy skies and airplane having not problem landing at O’Hare.

I expected the return to be problem free, as we were not returning home until Wednesday, December 28th.  Turns out Southwest was still jacked, but our flight appeared to be the only KMDW to KPHX flight going on that day. 

We arrived early at the airport to find it absolutely empty.  Our flight was going to go, but it was only one of three in our entire terminal leaving. 

Only time in all my travels to Midway that nobody, and I mean nobody was going through TSA.
Concourse B was totally empty. I do love that Southwest had a sense of humor with their snarky little displays and thousands of passengers were still stranded. Classy!

The flight did leave on time.  Here’s the kicker, it was only about 80% full.  There were empty seats everywhere, which is just bat-shit crazy given the circumstances. 

Crazy the number of empty seats on my return flight given the circumstances.

I’m leaving out a ton of details but that’s the story.  Couple of side notes:

We looked for alternative flights on other airlines for the 28th if Southwest cancelled our flight.  The cheapest ticket we could find would have been on Dec 31st, on American, for the cost of $2,300 per person.  I made a snarky Tweet to American about price gouging.  They said they were “capping” their costs to help stranded passengers.  I guess by capping they mean charging stranded people nearly x3 a ticket’s normal price.  American can fuck right off too. 

I made it to Chicago for the holidays, but it cost me an additional $450 for the American flight and $250 for the hotel room.  Not to mention airport parking, which was 96$, since I had to drive myself last minute to get to on the American flight. 

Now Southwest is saying they will refund passengers for additional cost if their flights were cancelled from Dec 24 to Jan 2, claiming the 22nd and 23rd were weather related cancellations.  Whatever shithead company. 

Almost every company I dealt with during this ordeal had a basic “fuck off” attitude to their customers.  This is true for Southwest for obvious reasons.  The City of Chicago and O’Hare Airport, along with the Chicago Police Department are running that city like something out of a dystopian futuristic third-world country.  The Hyatt refused to provide any help, not even allowing the “Hyatt” shuttle to drive me the one mile to the correct Hyatt hotel at 3am during a blizzard.  They will never have my business again. 

But, like I said, I had it much better than thousands of passengers.  I made it to Christmas on time.  I was not stranded in another city.  My luggage did not get lost.  Finally, we made it back home. 

This will be a Christmas not to be forgotten . . . all because Southwest decided to prioritize revenue over paying for infrastructure, which finally bit them in the ass.    

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