Canceled. Canceled. Canceled. Southwest meltdown brings holiday misery to airports

Californians with vacation envy had a surefire cure this week: all they had to do was check out the scene at any airport.

The Southwest Airlines meltdown left tens of thousands of travelers stranded, many with no luggage or any idea when or how they would reach their destinations.

At Los Angeles International and Hollywood Burbank airports, queues – for information, for attempts to change bookings, for rental cars – snaked for hours on Tuesday. All departure boards told the same shocking story: Cancelled. Called off. Called off.

Long-planned family reunions, vacations, work meetings, doctor’s appointments: all cancelled.

Thousands of people at both airports sat amid a flotilla of bags trying to figure out what to do.

Among them were Luis and Ruth Hernandez and their Yorkshire terrier, Sissi, who looked festive in a Christmas jumper. The Hernandezes, slumped on a curb in front of LAX’s Southwest Terminal, had been trying to get to Omaha to visit their daughter and grandchildren. But her connecting flight in Phoenix had been cancelled. Rather than risk being stranded in Arizona, the couple opted to rebook, only to be told the earliest flight is Sunday.

“Sissi also wanted to see her family,” Ruth Hernandez said, noting that two other Yorkies were waiting for the trio in Nebraska.

The delay upsets their plans. The grandchildren will be going back to school next week and family members who have taken time off will be back to work when the grandparents can get there.

“It really screwed everything up,” said Luis Hernandez. “It’s a mess,” added his wife. Only Sissi seemed unimpressed.

Across town, at Hollywood Burbank Airport, Roger and Jane Truesdale initially thought they were among the lucky few whose flights would take off.

Jane, 74, said she paid $60 for early access and was delighted to check in for a flight home to Denver on Tuesday morning.

Their joy lasted exactly 15 minutes. She then received a text message from Southwest informing her that the flight had been cancelled.

Not knowing what to do, she and her husband drove to Burbank Airport anyway, hoping to reschedule. It didn’t do them any good: Airline officials told the couple the earliest flight they could get is Saturday.

That was a letdown for the couple, who were visiting their son over the holidays and hadn’t packed enough medicine for so long.

They searched with other airlines for a way home. By noon they hadn’t found anyone.

Other stranded Southwest travelers made their way.

Heather Dillion and her family woke up just after 4 a.m. Monday to catch an early flight from Orange County’s John Wayne Airport to Idaho. But about 30 minutes before the scheduled departure, she noticed that the gate was shockingly quiet.

“A porter came to the microphone and said something along the lines of ‘I know many of you are waiting. We’re still waiting for our crew. Just think positive thoughts,” Dillion said.

The hint of concern in the agent’s voice made Dillion think positive thoughts might not be enough to get the plane airborne.

Dillion, husband Blake and their 3-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter finally loaded their luggage and snacks into their truck and made the 18-hour drive to McCall, Idaho.

Dillon said she was glad they did.

“Everything is so stressful. And it’s so important for us to spend that time out in the fresh air and with family and just stop for a moment,” she said.

“We could have missed that [the trip]. Sure,” she added. “But we almost missed it. And we wouldn’t have been with the whole family, and lately, the last few years, there’s just so much that’s happened that we don’t take family time for granted when we can get it. Hey, we drive 18 hours through the night with two small children.”

In some cases, even people who drove hundreds of kilometers could not escape the airport.

Amy Davis, who lives in Indianapolis, left Indiana on Christmas Day en route to Burbank via Phoenix.

When she arrived in Phoenix, she learned that her connecting flight had been cancelled.

Davis attempted to rebook through Southwest’s customer service line but hung up after being on hold for two hours. She was then told that she would have to wait five hours to speak to a Southwest agent at the airport.

Davis said she rented a car for $220 and reached a friend’s home in Northridge on Monday afternoon.

“I mean, if you wait five hours, I might as well drive,” she said.

Her luggage somehow made it to Burbank. She went to the airport on Monday to try to pick it up but was unsuccessful. She came back on Tuesday — dressed in an outfit she hastily bought at Walmart — to try again.

After waiting two hours, Davis and a customer service representative found their two suitcases stacked among the hundreds piled up at baggage claim. Shortly thereafter, her friend picked her up and the two set off to celebrate Davis’ 52nd birthday.

“I think you could say that this had a happy ending,” she said.

Even for those willing to pay for a rental car to drive hundreds of miles to their destination, getting one at the airport wasn’t easy.

The line at the Burbank car rental counter was 50 people deep Tuesday morning — not including the 100 or so others waiting inside and outside the facility.

Luisa Isbell, 31, an Oakland resident, was taking a deep breath and listening to music as she landed a third hour outside the car rental station just after 11 a.m

She said she and her partner endured a series of flight cancellations before deciding to head home to the Bay Area.

“It didn’t take long to actually rent a car, but we’ve been in line to pick up a car for hours now,” Isbell said.

Chaos spread from the airports. At a grocery store in the Northern California city of Davis, a woman was surprised to meet her friend Emily Kim Tuesday afternoon.

Kim and her family were supposed to be in New Orleans, but their flight was cancelled. Kim stood in front of the deli counter and told her story – about a sunken holiday and hours in the queue. Her friend spontaneously offered her her family’s cabin in Lake Tahoe as a replacement.

Few of the stranded were so lucky. But many tried to make the best of the situation.

Denver’s Andy Robinson spent Tuesday morning waiting in line at LAX for a hotel voucher after his flight was cancelled.

He and his family came to Los Angeles to see the Denver Broncos play the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. The Broncos lost, 51-14.

“It only added to our misery,” Robinson said.

Still, he said: “I’m trying to look at it positively. i am in california I wear flip flops.”

Times contributor Noah Goldberg contributed to this report. Canceled. Canceled. Canceled. Southwest meltdown brings holiday misery to airports

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