Travel woes continue for Southwest as hundreds of flights are canceled in the DC area

The struggle is continuing for holiday travelers who are trying to get to their destination, especially using Southwest Airlines. The carrier has canceled thousands of flights as they try to rework their scheduling system and get back on track.

Southwest canceled more than 2,500 flights around the U.S. Wednesday –– over half of scheduled trips.

Customers can contact Southwest to rebook or request a refund.

The D.C area was not immune. According to Flight Aware, 60 flights in and out of Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, have been canceled –– 70% of the planned schedule.

The mass cancellations at Reagan have left hundreds of bags lined up in rows, clogging Terminal 1 between the baggage claim carousel and the Southwest ticket counter.

Bags are left unattended after Southwest cancels flights. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)

When the alarm went off early Wednesday morning, signaling that more bags were coming to the carousels, only Southwest employees were there to pick them up and scatter them to areas on the floor hoping that their owners will eventually pick them up.

Wajahat Ali drove 14 hours from Orlando, Florida, to get back home after Christmas, but he did so without his luggage.

He played a cruel game of “Where’s Waldo” early Wednesday morning at the Southwest terminal, trying to find his youngest daughter’s tiny roller bag that was plastered with pictures of leaves.

Wajahat Ali raised his coffee in a salutary gesture to the Southwest employees who helped him. (WTOP/Nick Lukert)

He spent eight hours at the Orlando airport before returning to his in-laws’ house trying to figure out a way to get home.

“I’m one of the lucky ones. There are people out there who, unlike us, don’t have in-laws, spending money on their credit card to get hotel rooms,” said Ali. “There’s no rooms anywhere. There’re no cars anywhere.”

After he found his five bags, he raised his coffee in a salutary gesture to the Southwest employees who helped him.

“I don’t blame them. I said ‘thank you for your work,’” said Ali. “It’s the leadership that has to do better of Southwest.”

Denise Thompson flew from Phoenix, Arizona, to visit her daughter in D.C. Her husband was rebooked on Southwest and arrived two days ago without any luggage. Her reservation was canceled completely and she had to rebook on another airline, finally arriving Wednesday morning at Dulles International in Virginia.

“I’ve been flying all night. And I just got here and had to fly United and pay a bunch of money,” said Thompson.

She immediately drove with her daughter and husband from Dulles to Reagan, on the off-chance they could find her husband’s luggage. Luck was on their side.

“I’m really disappointed in Southwest, because, I mean, I understand things happen,” said Thompson. “But still you’ve got all these people and with their plans. I don’t understand how Southwest had so many cancellations and other airlines didn’t.”

Meanwhile, the impact at BWI Marshall is far worse, where more than 200 flights were axed. Only nine were canceled at Dulles International.

Freezing weather over the weekend caused a ripple effect of cancellations for the airline, which uses an antiquated scheduling system to handle quick flight turnarounds.

Southwest CEO Bob Jordan apologized for the cancellations on Twitter, and said they plan to be back to normal operations by next week.

The airline has already scrubbed 1,400 flights across the country for Thursday.

Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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