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Southwest flight cancellations under scrutiny as travel woes linger

Updated December 27, 2022 - 4:22 pm

A fourth day of terrible travels left people struggling to get in and out of Las Vegas on Tuesday, when flight cancellations left passengers with no available bookings until the new year.

Summerlin residents Owen and Josie Sherwood flew to Sandpoint, Idaho, on Dec. 21 for what was supposed to be a six-day trip. Their 4-month-old son, River, made driving through the inclement weather too difficult, so the family chose to fly through Spokane, Washington.

“We went to check in on the Southwest Airlines app at 7:10 p.m. last night, and when we go to check in, it says the flight’s been canceled,” Owen Sherwood said in a phone interview Tuesday morning. “We hit the rebook button, and as you’re going through, every day until Sunday is unavailable. There’s not one single flight until 8:05 Sunday night.”

The Sherwoods looked at other airlines, including a $1,300 Alaska Airlines flight Thursday night that would take 14 hours. Shorter flights that could be booked Monday night were $3,000, and one direct flight from Spokane to Las Vegas on Wednesday would cost $1,800 per person.

By Tuesday afternoon, 119 flights arriving and 120 flights leaving Harry Reid International Airport had been canceled. The online tracker FlightAware showed that more than 50 percent of those flights were on Southwest.

“We have dogs at home we’ve been without for a while,” Josie Sherwood said. “We need to pay somebody to stay longer with them, and we miss them. We’ve got lives to get back to. It’s way too far to drive with an infant. Who knows what weather would prohibit us to do.”

The family is being forced to re-rent a car, find new housing, attempt to work remotely, cancel its New Year’s Eve plans and hope the next flight does not get canceled.

“We’ve been very loyal to Southwest over the years and almost exclusively flown them,” Owen Sherwood said. “We’re going to consider other airlines more strongly moving forward.”

Southwest causing huge headache

Across the nation, 64 percent — or 2,630 — of Southwest’s flights had been canceled as of 3 p.m. Tuesday, according to FlightAware. Harry Reid was the second worst airport for cancellations and delays, after Denver International Airport.

In a statement Monday night, the U.S. Department of Transportation said it would examine whether Southwest’s cancellations were controllable.

“USDOT is concerned by Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays &reports of lack of prompt customer service,” the statement posted to Twitter read.

Flight attendants for Southwest also have been left stranded, according to a statement from Transport Workers Union of America Local 556. The union represents 18,000 Southwest flight attendants, who they said have called for better technology for years so the company can better communicate with passengers and employees.

“Trying to get home for Christmas seems like a dream to flight attendants who are struggling with the nightmare of simply trying to secure appropriate shelter, food and rest,” the union’s statement on Monday read.

Samantha Woods of Austin, Texas, spent her entire day at Reid airport on Monday, watching her flight get delayed several times before it was ultimately canceled. She booked a room at Paris Las Vegas for Monday night, crossing her fingers that Tuesday’s 5 a.m. flight could depart.

She debated staying at the airport after booking her next flight so she could find her bag, but she gave up when she saw the 90-minute line to see a Southwest representative.

“We’ll have to buy a toothbrush or something like that,” Woods said. “I’d rather do that and put the same clothes on and just go home exhausted than stand in another line for an hour and a half.”

FlightAware showed that Woods’ 5 a.m. flight to Austin on Tuesday was canceled.

‘All ruined. So sad.’

Mike Joseph, a 35-year-old father of two, said Tuesday that he had been stuck in Las Vegas for almost a week. Joseph was supposed to leave with his 5-year-old and 8-year-old on Monday, but their flight to Boise, Idaho, was canceled.

“With no rental car, no nothing,” Joseph said. “Honestly, for as many years that I’ve been flying, this is the first time this has happened.”

Marvin Gray, an Albuquerque, New Mexico, resident, flew to Las Vegas to see his daughter for the holidays. His 3 a.m. flight home Tuesday was canceled, as were so many flights after his.

“You feel kind of helpless because you can’t do anything about it,” Gray said.

Las Vegas resident Richard Borland, 62, finally gave up on flying home from Dallas after two days of delays.

“They put me on a fight that was supposed to leave today, and then it was late for tomorrow, and I thought, ‘I have to get home,’” Borland said. “So I walked out of the airport, I rented a car, and I just drove 1,300 miles where I got home last night at midnight.”

Borland was at Harry Reid on Tuesday to pick up his luggage, which did manage to catch a flight.

Shelly Fields has tickets to see Bruno Mars with her daughter in Las Vegas on New Year’s Eve. At 10:42 a.m. Tuesday, Southwest messaged Fields to say her flight from Oklahoma City was canceled. Fields would have to spend $3,000 to book the next available flight, which is on New Year’s Eve, or lose her $1,200 tickets.

“I just wanted to create memories” Fields wrote in a message to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “This was her surprise for Christmas…. All ruined. So sad.”

Contact Sabrina Schnur at sschnur@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter. Review-Journal Metro intern Jimmy Romo and photographer Kevin Cannon contributed to this report.

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