General | Luke | World Headlines

My Fight vs. Southwest Airlines, and How You Can Fight Them Too.

It all started the way most emergencies in my life do, with my staunch refusal to get out of bed. My phone received a text message at 6:30am, but it wouldn’t be until I woke up at 10:30am the day after Christmas that I would see the message. My flight was canceled. I quickly logged into the Southwest App and switched the 6pm flight from STL to MSP to a 6:40 flight with a layover in MDW (Chicago Midway).


Like many Americans, I was in for a world of hurt. Just an hour later the southwest app was giving me a big red bar saying that my STL->MDW->MSP flights were canceled. But FlightAware had the flights as scheduled. Upon refresh, Southwest themselves didn’t seem to know if their flight was canceled. The notification was gone and would reappear at random. To get to the bottom of it, I would have to do the unthinkable… Actually call customer service.


As I sat on hold for customer service, I reminisced. I should have known something was wonky when I landed in STL on Saturday the 24th. There were bags EVERYWHERE in the baggage pickup area, seemingly just put wherever they had space. I snapped a few pictures to show people and was on my way. I didn’t put too much thought into it besides a chuckle, it’s not like Lambert is renowned for being a world class airport (as an aside, if you ever meet me around town, don’t get me started on airports.)


Lambert's Baggage claim
Lambert St. Louis baggage claim on Friday. Funny enough, it didn’t get brighter for Southwest.


After 3 hours on hold and in the middle of a St. Louis Barbeque lunch with two of my closest friends, I finally heard the signs of life on the other side of the phone. Trembling with anticipation I received those dreaded words that millions would hear “We can confirm your flight has been canceled.” They had good news for me though. They could get me onto the next flight back home… Thursday evening. 3 days late. I explained that wasn’t acceptable at all, and received a refund saying that I would drive myself back to Minnesota.


Let’s talk for a second about transfarency. That’s what Southwest likes to say is core to their company. The woman on the other end of the line explained briefly that weather had caused these cancellations, and that wasn’t very transfarent of them at all. She was pleasant and handled my refund really quickly, she had nothing to do with the issues at Southwest… While I kept my mouth shut, I really don’t appreciate being lied to. 


Let’s get one thing out of the way right now. No, it’s not that “Nobody wants to work anymore.” That’s a tired and false take. No, it wasn’t COVID related. Most importantly, it definitely wasn’t weather holding Southwest back. Nearly 95% of all of the cancelations in the USA on Tuesday were a singular airline, Southwest. The Airports with some of the most cancellations were MDW, LAS, DEN, and DAL… All airports that are major focuses of Southwest. In fact, DAL is the actual headquarters of Southwest. This isn’t a coincidence.


Flights canceled by Airport on Tuesday, December 27th
Surely it’s just a coincidence that these are all Southwest focus cities… Right?


As of now, we’ve learned what many including myself suspected. Southwest’s internal scheduling system crashed, because someone decided that updating the system shouldn’t be a priority for decades. Southwest didn’t know where workers were physically located. They were at an airport, ready to fly… Southwest just didn’t know which airport. Their antiquated system also meant to verify where those workers were was down to manual telephone calls. To thousands of employees. This is a disgraceful failure. 


It’s now Tuesday, at 5am. I’m getting ready for a long day of driving. My Dad, who is an absolute hero, took the day off to physically drive me up to Minneapolis where my car was located, turn around and drive home. In one day. As I walk out of the QuikTrip (The superior QuikTrip, I may add), I notice a change on their website as we leave, it reads “We will honor reasonable requests for reimbursement for meals, hotel, and alternate transportation (such as rental cars, or tickets on other airlines).” That’s the golden ticket.


QuikTrip>KwikTrip and I will die on this hill.
The Journey Begins…


Meals, Gas, Extra nights of parking, hotel rooms… You better believe we found receipts for every single thing. From Gas in Springfield IL to Potbelly subs in the Wisconsin Dells, they are gonna pay for it. 


So here’s my advice to you. If you’ve been affected by the Southwest disruption, document EVERYTHING. Save your receipts for every expense incurred. Go to this page on the Southwest website and submit it when you have the chance. Also, if you can get a refund for your flight, do so. Always take the cash back when you have a chance. My final tip is to keep an eye on news sites. There is going to be hell to pay for SWA and that is going to come in the form of class action lawsuits and penalties. Remember that this is not a weather incident. They neglected a basic part of their business for years and you are within your rights to demand restitution for neglect on their part. While this was happening, Delta canceled 1% of it’s global flights. It’s inexcusable.


Flight cancellations by airline


I got home at about 10pm on Tuesday night, and quickly tucked into bed to get to work the next day. Ultimately, I was extremely lucky that I was only inconvenienced by one work day. I count my lucky stars that I was in a somewhat fixable situation.


While we passed Madison, my dad did what he does almost every day, and talked baseball. The Cardinals might have not spent a ton in free agency, but they are young. With If Jordan Walker comes onto the scene this year you could put him in for O’Neill assuming Carlson breaks out of his sophomore slump, he theorizes. It’s not like the Cubs are going to threaten you this year, he says.


Ultimately, life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you handle it. Am I mad at Southwest? Absolutely. Am I demanding a huge reimbursement? You betcha. But when I look back at this in a decade’s time, I’ll remember the silver lining of a 10 hour impromptu road trip. There’s only so much time on this earth you can spend with loved ones, and I’ll choose to cherish it when it happens. Stay positive, and Happy New Year’s!