How I Survived the Southwest Airlines Collapse
I was lucky when our flight landed in Dallas.
It was December 21 and meteorologists were predicting a winter storm that we would later learn would kill more than 50 people.
My parents picked up my wife and I after our flight from Southwest Burbank landed perfectly on time at Dallas Love Field. Our four bags — checked in for free! — lots of Christmas presents that arrived unscathed. The hardest part of the day was figuring out how to get out of the airport parking lot.
The next day, when the wind chill was 14 below zero, we were comfortable and safe at my parents’ house in rural Oklahoma. We spent the next week visiting a family we hadn’t seen since before the COVID-19 pandemic. We had a great time, losing to my cousins at dominoes and participating in our family’s annual Dirty Santa game.
So many families weren’t so lucky.
According to the Associated Press, Southwest has canceled thousands of flights, likely affecting well over a million passengers.
Reports from stranded travelers said their flight may not be rescheduled for days, children sleeping on airport floors and sobbing passengers uncertain as they leave the terminal were an ironic Christmas present from the airline that claims to love its passengers, has a heart-shaped logo and trades as LUV on the New York Stock Exchange.
Everything was going well for us until Tuesday, when I received four texts around 3 a.m. from Southwest telling me that our flight the next day from Dallas to Burbank was canceled. There was a link to a report, which I realized after my first cup of coffee.
My wife and I rushed to the Southwest website, where Southwest informed us that if we didn’t want to be charged, we had to fly from the same airport (Dallas) but could fly into multiple airports south from California.
First, we checked Burbank, where no flights were available for days.
We noticed a few options available Saturday at LAX, but wanted to check out the rest of the airports, just to see if anything was available sooner. In those few minutes — when we briefly considered whether one of our friends would pick us up in Santa Barbara, only to find no available flights there — flights out of LAX were gobbled up. A few random error messages later (who knows why) we had a flight to Long Beach on Saturday.
When I told my friends this, one of them mentioned, “Oh my God, Long Beach Airport is like a vacation in itself,” noting its “luxurious outdoor spaces.” A more cynical person might growl at such an observation, but I appreciated the silver lining.
After my brother died in 2018 from brain cancer, I reassessed my life priorities and began to practice gratitude in a more thoughtful way. Often when I’m angry about something but realize I may be being unreasonable, I force myself to write down three things I’m grateful for. It almost always provides a mood boost.
And so was my approach from Tuesday to Saturday when our trip to my childhood home got unintentionally extended. Located in a rural area, it is a 20 minute drive – due to distance not traffic – to anything beyond cattle pastures, churches, gas drilling sites natural and a convenience store.
The best news was that our 6 year old niece would be with us for the days we hadn’t planned to be there which was an unexpected blessing. The sun came out and we spent our days running around the yard pretending to be wizards, visiting our family’s lake and playing with my parents’ pets, including the two kittens that were basically dumped on their doorstep earlier in the year. One night we played a board game of tossing fake burritos at each other. The niece liked this one, and was pretty good at tagging my mom.
These are the memories we need to create because of Southwest’s failures. But for those stranded across the country, how many missed their grandparents’ last Christmas? How many missed a baby’s first vacation? They are treasured family memories, often documented by multi-generational photos. How many families will have photos missing from the family album this holiday season?
It’s possible to practice gratitude and be angry at Southwest – two things can be true at the same time.
In the Dallas area, we found a truly epic playground in Plano, where our niece hosted an obstacle course that I was told I would participate in (I lost, as I fell from a log in the lava). We visited our favorite vegan restaurant, where our niece stole most of the sundaes we ordered.
Yes, we made even more memories with our favorite child on the planet, but my wife also missed three days of work in her scheduled job. Due to the early flight on Saturday, our family had to book an Airbnb – more money than we had planned to spend. And we were honestly stressed about whether we could trust Southwest when it promised it would return to normal operations on Friday.
When we arrived at Dallas Love Field around 5:30 a.m. Saturday, we were met with a large crowd. We joined the growing queue at outdoor check-in after looking inside and seeing at least dozens of people already in line to check in their bags (still free). I shook my wife’s hand as I noticed her face becoming more anxious. “We’ll go home,” I assured her, hoping I was telling her the truth.
We cleared security around 6:15 a.m. and landed in Las Vegas around 8:05 a.m. We stayed on the plane while everyone left and were among a dozen passengers remaining for the next flight. At one point the lights on the plane flickered and I thought “Not today, Satan.” I tried to take a nap for that 45 minute flight home, but my mind was too busy.
I was lucky when our flight landed in Long Beach.
Los Angeles Times