Stranded baggage piles up at RDU as Southwest Airlines CEO apologizes for cancelation chaos

WTVD logo
Thursday, December 29, 2022
Stranded baggage piles up at RDU amid Southwest cancelation chaos
Droves of luggage litter the Southwest Airlines baggage claim area Wednesday at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Droves of luggage litter the Southwest Airlines baggage claim area at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

It's the latest sign of the nationwide breakdown that has thrown holiday travel into chaos and stranded thousands of passengers during the thick of the holidays.

"I've never been so happy to see my bags in my life for some reason," Chris Caro said after finally picking up their luggage Wednesday morning. Caro spent the last four days without any luggage--effectively empty-handed for holiday gatherings.

"We have presents in here for our niece and nephews and our relatives, so we are happy to get these things. I don't care about the clothes and stuff but the presents are here. It'll be a late Christmas gift but at least we got it."

Passenger like Cameron Wright are taking matters into their own hands.

"Couldn't rent a car. So I'm like, I'm gonna go buy a car. So I went bought a car, " he said.

Wright stopped by a local car dealership and bought a brand new Toyota Camry after being quoted $2,400 for a rental to get back home

"Literally just to go back to New Mexico. It is the only choice. I could have went to the airport and sat there. I mean, how many flights had been delayed, canceled? 20,000, 30,000? Where are these people gonna go?," Wright said.

ABC11 met Wright in Terminal One at RDU Wednesday evening after he searched rows and rows of luggage. He was lucky all his bags were there. It wasn't the case for David Levy. He was missing one of his bag.

"When they told me I couldn't get my bags back. I think that's when I almost blew a fuse," said Levy. He's a lot calmer now, but he's still without his bag. "They're going to have to FedEx the other bag when it comes in to Winston Salem."

Levy was supposed to return to RDU on Saturday, but after days of cancellations and delays he rented a car and drove from Chicago .

"I'm exhausted. I'm tired. I've got to drive back to Winston, I gotta get my car, which has been, you know, in the parking lot here since a week ago," Levy continued.

He is out of thousands and so is Wright.They both want every penny back and hopefully they may get some relief.

Southwest Airlines announced they will honor reasonable requests for reimbursement for meals, hotel, and alternate transportation.

"They have to go through a claims process just like you do with your auto insurance, when you get in an accident, they have to look at all the documentation, they have to get all the receipts, and then once they've processed that claim, then it pays off," explained Donna May, who is a travel agent with Outlander Travel.

May said it's a difficult process, and travel insurance is the way to go but even in this case it could also take some time. She explained how travel insurance will work for Southwest passengers.

"You do have to spend your own money to start with, and then you actually produce receipts. If the airline has already offered to pick up some of those receipts, then they're going to defer to the airline first. And then see what happens there. And then you file for a claim for anything that the airline did not cover, " May explained.

And passengers like Wright are holding on to every receipt even the one for his new car hoping to get a refund for that, but that's highly unlikely.

" I'll put a sticker on the back window if they do," he said.

In a nearly three-minute video statement Tuesday, Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said he is "truly sorry" for the airline's failures over the holiday weekend, praising the airline's employees, who he said "are showing up in every way," as the airline grapples to catch up after canceling thousands of flights.

"I'm apologizing to them daily," he said.

Airlines canceled thousands of flights in what became a Christmas nightmare for many passengers as winter storms and staffing issues wreaked havoc across the U.S.

WATCH: Husband's surprise wedding anniversary trip for wifey delayed after Southwest cancels flight

Couple's 33rd wedding anniversary disrupted in Southwest Airlines delays, cancelations and chaos at RDU.

Most major airlines canceled or delayed flights, but Southwest Airlines canceled at least 70% of its flights Monday -- more than 2,600 -- due to a reported system meltdown. The chaos continued Tuesday, with the airline canceling 62% of flights for the day and canceling 62% of flights on Wednesday.

Jordan attributed some of the issues to how Southwest constructs its flight paths.

"We build our flight schedule around communities, not hubs, so we are the largest airline in 23 of the top 25 travel markets in the U.S., cities where large numbers of scheduled flights simultaneously froze as record bitter cold brought challenges for all airlines," he said.

Southwest is "significantly reduc(ing)" its number of flights over the next few days," Jordan added, in the hope that things will "be back on track before next week."

WATCH: What are your rights when an airline cancels your flight?

If you're stuck in the Southwest debacle no matter what you're rights are, you're still going to be frustrated.

"We're focused on safely getting all of the pieces back into position to end this rolling struggle," he said.

Southwest is now doing a "reset" by moving some crews and planes around the country without passengers to get them into place and restart operations. Southwest have stopped selling tickets on flights coming up in the next few days. Passengers are being encouraged to buy flights on other airlines to get to their destinations before the new year.

Capt. Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said in a statement earlier Monday that the ordeal has "been catastrophic."

"It's been a failure at every level at Southwest. Our pilots, our front-line employees have worked under enormous stress to try to get our passengers from A to B, but we were dealt a really bad hand as far as Southwest is concerned," Murray said, in part, adding that their "processes," information technology or infrastructure "just wasn't there to support the operation."

The U.S. Department of Transportation says it will look into flight cancellations by Southwest Airlines that have left travelers stranded.