North Sound News

‘Worst Christmas ever’: Woman waiting to see if Southwest Airlines makes good on promises

BLAINE, Wash. — A Blaine woman who was stranded in Las Vegas is waiting to see if Southwest Airlines makes good on promises to reimburse her.

Diane Wilson says it took a week for her to get home to Blaine after the airline had a nationwide system meltdown right before Christmas.

Wilson said several flights back to Bellingham from Long Beach, California, and Las Vegas, Nevada, were canceled, forcing her to take extra steps to try to get home. She said her ordeal lead to an unplanned side trip and stay in Las Vegas, a flight to Vancouver, BC, (not on Southwest), a pickup by a family member, and a more than three-hour wait at the border.

Despite all that, she considers herself a lucky traveler amid the mess.

“Yes, it was a nightmare. Yes, it was the worst Christmas ever. It was — it was just the perfect storm,” she said.

Wilson says she was among the thousands of people stymied by the Southwest Airlines meltdown that saw tens of thousands of flights canceled across America right during the Christmas travel rush.

She had gone on a Hawaiian cruise and returned to Long Beach around Dec. 22 when she was supposed to fly to Bellingham via Oakland.

None of those plans played out.

Wilson did say she was able to hold onto her bags as she changed planes. Agents said there was a flight to Las Vegas and from there, she could theoretically find another flight, so she opted to fly there. Once there, she realized flights were getting canceled and there would be no return home.

So they booked a room on the Las Vegas strip and stayed there for days over Christmas. The Southwest gate agents in Las Vegas worked hard to try to find her a flight, but it didn’t work out, according to Wilson.

She even said that the agent she was working with had her own family at the airport as she tried to deal with hundreds of angry passengers who were not able to get home.

“Everyone knows it was a disaster, but I feel for everyone who was taking their kids to see their grandparents for the first time in two years. How do you put a price tag on that?” said Wilson.

Southwest passengers have managed to get home and find bags, though some are still struggling with the fallout from the cancellations by airline as its computer booking system crumbled.

Wilson found a way home, and opted to fly Air Canada into Vancouver, B.C., then had a relative drive her and her husband across the border. She said the wait time at the border was in excess of three hours.

She did admit she would probably not join a class action lawsuit against Southwest. The U.S. Department of Transportation has urged people to file complaints if their needs are not addressed by Southwest. Many passengers are planning or filing federal complaints against Southwest now, but Wilson is waiting to see if the airline reimburses her. If they don’t, she says she will consider filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation. U.S. DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg has informed Southwest by letter, as well as in numerous television appearances, that he will be monitoring how the airline responds to the passengers seeking compensation.

When Wilson was in the process of navigating the trip home, at first she was told that Southwest was not planning to cover her expenses and tickets, blaming the weather for the initial flurry of cancellations. Since then, Southwest has changed its tune and says it will work to try to compensate passengers that were hampered by the airline’s system collapse.

Senior members of both the Southwest pilots’ union and flight attendants’ union made appearances at the height of the crisis and said the blame squarely fell on Southwest for not updating its antiquated computer system. A vice president with the pilots union also said that the issue was raised with the airline several times for years with little to no action.

Wilson is hoping that reimbursement does come her way.

“They’ve said they’ll make it right. They’ve said they’ll refund, they’ll cover out costs — they were trying their hardest to work with a system that was broken,” said Wilson.

Southwest officials have promised to try to reimburse and refund people who experienced problems traveling during the holidays and admitted that their booking system failed under pressure.

Wilson said Southwest has delivered on a promise of 50,000 travel miles.