Unless you cut yourself off from society for the last two weeks of 2022 and first week of 2023, you’ve already heard plenty about the Southwest Airlines meltdown over the 2022 holidays. One million people were affected by their delays and cancellations. My husband and I were two of them. We were able to locate a rental car in Los Angeles and drive home to San Antonio. I had 21 hours of driving on Interstate 10 (I-10) to think about lessons learned from this experience – both from a business standpoint and travel standpoint.
Travel Lessons Learned from Southwest Airlines Holiday Debacle
Since we were on vacation visiting family in Los Angeles, we made it a point not to get sucked into the news, but we did make sure we stayed updated on weather and travel. Since Southwest Airlines was mentioned by everyone, everywhere, I started tracking our incoming plane and actual plane 72 hours prior via both the Southwest app and FlightAware.com. At 5:00 P.M. the evening before our 8:40 AM flight, I saw in my app that our flight had been cancelled. I confirmed this on FlightAware.com. Southwest did not send us a notification until nearly 9:00 P.M. that our flight “might be impacted.” Take it upon yourself to stay updated.
My first thought was to open a bottle of wine and deal with this later. But logic kicked in and told me to break the rules of no phones at the dinner table and figure this out. I was unable to change our flight through the app, so I began to call. Throughout our last family dinner of our stay (the family knew what was happening, so I was forgiven for bad manners), I dialed Southwest Airlines every 10 minutes and got a busy signal. During a delicious two-hour dinner with bubbly and wine, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t rely on Southwest to help because I was getting nowhere via phone, their app, or website. I began searching other airlines. It was going to cost us $3000 per person to fly home the next day on another airline. If we waited until two days later, it would be $500 each for a 13-hour journey with two connections. Rely on two or three planes to get us home? No thanks. I looked at Southwest’s offerings as a customer booking a “new” flight and discovered that no flights were available for six days. I immediately attempted to book a car. LAX was sold out. I looked for the nearest car rental place other than LAX and snagged one of the last cars from that location. Had I waited to deal with this later or for Southwest to answer the phone, we might still be in Los Angeles. Our return transportation was arranged before Southwest even bothered to notify us that our flight “might be impacted.” From news stories, you saw that people remained stuck for days. Stay updated. Act fast.
We’d packed extra clothes and extra medicine and vitamins just in case we didn’t come home on time. We’d also asked the person boarding our dogs if we’d have any wiggle room on extending their stay if there was an issue. We dropped them off with extra food and medicine. We’d also made sure we didn’t have any work commitments for at least two days after our originally-scheduled arrival, both for travel cushion and resting. I’m so glad we did that because once we secured our transportation, we didn’t have all of those other details to worry about. What I didn’t cushion enough, however, was a doctor’s appointment. Since he has such a long wait list, I’d agreed to an appointment for the late afternoon on the day after we were supposed to get home. I figured even if our flight got cancelled, we’d catch one the next morning, and I’d be home in time to get to it. HA. I called the office before we hit the road, and, fortunately, they were very understanding and were able to squeeze me in the following week. Next time, I need to add more cushion for anything important – work, family events or personal appointments.
It seems like extra work to do all of this prep and maneuvering, but we were able to get home much sooner than many other people and have to reschedule relatively few commitments. Given the current state of air travel (as I write this, the FAA computer systems have imploded, and all flights are grounded), I highly recommend you implement these measures.
Next week, I’ll share the business lessons learned. We can avoid some seriously costly mistakes (both time and financial) by learning from every misstep Southwest Airlines made.
For the complete guide to preparing for the best and worst of travel, check out The Great Escape: A Vacation Planner for Busy People Who Want to Take a Real Break from Work & Life.