Southwest finally apologized for ruining my Christmas. Too late.

My family was supposed to be visiting our home island of Puerto Rico for Christmas for the first time in over 30 years. The trip was urgent as my paternal grandmother had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It may have been one of the last holidays we could spend with her before we lose her to this illness. On my mother’s side, the family has already prepared for us an extravagant homecoming with traditional Puerto Rican dishes: a party to reunite both families during difficult times.

The plan to get there seemed almost too good to be true. My parents and I flew to Tampa International Airport on Christmas Eve, where my sister joined us after flying in from San Antonio that morning. From there, the whole family flew together that evening to the San Juan airport. But everything turned out to be wrong.

The nightmare began shortly after my parents and I parked outside the Southwest Airlines terminal at Hobby Airport around 3:30 AM CT on Christmas Eve, hours before our flight was scheduled to leave at 5:40 AM PT. time. When we got our bags out, my mother got a call from my sister and asked if our flights to Puerto Rico had been rescheduled for Tuesday, as it now seems to be hers. I will never forget the look on my father’s face as the tears immediately rolled down as his plans collapsed in front of him. We were devastated. Anyway, I decided to stay at home so she wouldn’t spend Christmas alone.

Still hoping, we asked my sister to stay in line at the San Antonio International Airport help desk for answers, a line we later learned would take her over two hours to get through. Heartbroken, we headed to the airport, but were even more shocked by what we saw inside: a sea of ​​people waiting for baggage check-in, neither the end nor the beginning of the queue is visible. Luckily, we only had carry-on luggage with us, and we didn’t have to navigate an endless train of potential passengers. Jaws dropped, we wandered through the crowd of confused and disappointed faces to the airport security service. Along the way, I saw pets shivering in the cold (the temperature was sub-zero that morning), people resting on their suitcases, and I heard many people ask, “Where are we even going?”

Even after we went through security, we did not receive any notification that our flight to Tampa was delayed or cancelled. We caught our flight, which left on time, during which my sister sent us messages while we tried to find her a ticket with another airline, only to find that the prices had already skyrocketed. The most expensive one we came across cost over $2,000. We gave up and decided we just had to accept that she would be joining us on the island on Tuesday.

After landing in Tampa around 8:30 AM ET, we checked the flight information on the board and breathed a sigh of relief. Our flight to Puerto Rico, scheduled for 10:05 am ET, was still on schedule. When my mom and I grabbed some food, my dad went to the customer service counter at the gate to ask for more information about my sister’s rescheduled flight. That’s when we found out that our flight to Puerto Rico had been canceled and automatically rebooked for Tuesday.

My stomach turned over. If we leave on Tuesday, we will only have three days of our planned week-long trip to my parents’ hometowns. We hurried to find alternative flights that would depart earlier. Nothing left for the Southwest before Tuesday, and other flights were far out of our budget (one cost over $6,000). Besides, how could we be sure that our flight would still leave on Tuesday? While I’m no stranger to delays, I’ve never experienced a full flight cancellation before, let alone an automatic rebooking. After some deliberation, we made the difficult decision to cancel the trip. I saw my parents burst into tears as they delivered the devastating news to their families over the phone.

But that was only the beginning of our nightmare. Now we had to find our way home to Houston. The earliest return flight was the next day: Christmas. Until then, without the help of Southwest, we were in a complete quandary. I looked around to see if we weren’t the only ones to suffer this fate. Families with babies and small children were standing around the terminal, elderly people were walking sluggishly, everyone was waiting for good news. I realize how lucky we are and how lucky we were to find a hotel and rent a car for the night. Guilt washed over me when I realized that others might be stuck at the airport for several days.

Unlike many others, we also had friends and family who lived nearby. We were received by an old family friend who fed us delicious homemade food and tried to distract us from the tragic outcome. We got to our hotel which was a rather sketchy place but the best we could find at the time and within what we could afford. My dad checked online to see if he could get a refund for a canceled trip to Puerto Rico, but all that was offered was airfare credits.

My family and I spent Christmas at Tampa International Airport thanks to Southwest Airlines.

Ariana Garcia

The next day, we tried to make the most of our Christmas, waiting at Tampa airport for our afternoon flight to Houston, anxiously expecting that it too would be cancelled. Our first Christmas without my sister and we spent it at the airport, albeit a beautiful airport. We took pictures in front of the amazing Christmas tree with other families who were also celebrating there. At least we weren’t alone.

When we arrived at our gate, everything seemed to be going according to plan. However, as we neared the flight’s departure time, a Southwest employee announced on the intercom that they needed a crew member who was missing from the three required for the flight. It took almost three hours before they finally found him. At that point, I didn’t care about delays. I just wanted to be home for Christmas. And we finally did. Around 3:00 pm ET, our flight, which was scheduled to leave at 12:50 pm ET, finally took off towards Houston.

Hungry upon arrival around 5pm CT on December 25th, we hurried to find any place to eat that was still open. After all, it was Christmas. That’s when we had another first: Christmas dinner at Sonic. That evening we saw on TV that thousands of Southwest flights had been cancelled, and not only here. Thousands of bags with personal luggage were lost, people were stuck at airports for several days. some passengers even called the police how they dealt with cancellations. Although we spent about $1,300 to fix the Southwest problem, it could have been worse.

After a bad trip, my dad requested a refund after learning on TV that Southwest was offering them to passengers affected by cancellations. After all, the crash, which caused 16,700 holiday flights to be cancelled, could cost the carrier between $725 million and $825 million, according to a New York Times report released Friday. US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg personally spoke out about the collapse of the carrier and issued a warning to Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan. However, just two weeks after our failed trip, on Wednesday, we finally received an apology for the experience: an emailed statement from Jordan blaming severe weather and operational issues. The email also contained an offer of bonus points for frequent flyers.

“I know that no amount of apology can ruin your experience,” the post read. And he’s right. Apologies cannot cancel the precious time we could have spent with our loved ones. Apologies cannot rid us of the fear we feel right now, flying anywhere and trusting that we will get to our final destination. Apologies cannot fix my grandmother’s deteriorating condition or the pain and guilt we feel for not being able to be there for her in times of need. The cost of this canceled trip is more than any refund Southwest can promise.

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