- Brady Goodman-Williams, a recruiter in LA, booked a Southwest flight to see his mom for Christmas.
- While he was traveling, Southwest canceled thousands of flights and left passengers stranded.
- Goodman-Williams traveled for 41 hours, spent a night in Vegas, and never made it to see his mom.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Brady Goodman-Williams, a 25-year-old recruiter living in Los Angeles. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I’m Jewish, but all I wanted for Christmas was to go visit my mom in my hometown of Denver. Luckily for me, it’s only a 2 ½-hour flight from Los Angeles, where I live and work.
But when I showed up at the airport on Christmas morning to check into my flight on Southwest Airlines, I was told it was canceled. Little did I know, this was the beginning of what would end up being a 41-hour journey — right back to where I started.
I was surprised to hear that my flight from LAX was canceled
I hadn’t been sent a text or email or anything to notify me of the cancellation ahead of time. If I had, I might not have left my apartment.
But as it was, I decided to see if I could get to Denver another way. I was put on a flight out of Hollywood Burbank Airport, another airport in Los Angeles, which took a $50 Uber ride to get there. When I made it to Burbank, it was a zoo. I started getting worried when I heard people talking about how they were still waiting to be rebooked on their flights from the day before.
My new flight was supposed to take off out of Burbank at 9 am
The flight was delayed. First, the delay was only 20 minutes, then 30 minutes, then an hour. Finally, it was announced that my flight was cancelled.
I waited in line to be rebooked through Las Vegas. It wasn’t even noon yet, so I figured I still had a pretty good chance of making it to Denver. I had already checked my bag, which was worrying, but I figured it’d be waiting for me in Denver when I got there. If I could at least make it to Las Vegas, I’d probably be able to figure it out, since Las Vegas is such a major hub for Southwest.
I got on a rerouted flight to Vegas — but even that couldn’t save me
While I was in the air, my flight from Vegas to Denver was canceled. I was rebooked for a flight out of Vegas at 8:40 pm, which would already bring my total travel time to more than 14 hours.
The Las Vegas airport was a nightmare. People were beside themselves. Babies were crying, people were fighting with each other and with gate agents, and there was nowhere to sit. It felt like the airport staff didn’t know what to do with the sheer volume of passengers.
It was total chaos — and then it got worse
My 8:40 pm flight was canceled. I left the terminal to go back to the check-in area to try to get rebooked and saw that the rebooking line was the longest line I’d seen that day. It took more than three hours.
By that time, it was 10 pm and a Southwest worker got on a megaphone to tell us that the airline’s system was down and couldn’t rebook anyone. The worker said Southwest would be considering refunds but that if we wanted to be considered for a refund, we needed to start a new line.
People lost their minds over refunds and were literally shoving each other out of the way
Elbows and fists were thrown. The couple behind me was fighting so badly that I thought they might get a divorce.
I finally got a partial refund on my ticket, with the logic behind it being that the airline got me partially to my destination by getting me to Las Vegas, which is on the way to Denver from Los Angeles.
I was given a $250 voucher for a $350 ticket. I booked a hotel for the night in Vegas and rented a car for almost $300 to drive back to Los Angeles the next day.
I wasn’t the only person who had the idea to rent a car to get home
Waiting in line for my rental took more than three hours, and the drive back to Los Angeles took seven hours, instead of the usual four, because of holiday traffic.
When I got back to Los Angeles International Airport, I went to talk to someone about my bag, but they didn’t have a solid answer. They knew my bag had made it to Denver, but they didn’t know when it would come back to Los Angeles.
I’ve always flown Southwest, but this made me rethink everything
I’m grateful I have enough of a financial cushion that I was able to pay for a hotel and rental car, but I feel for people who didn’t have that choice. Southwest says it’s going to reimburse “reasonable requests,” but I’m not holding my breath.
This whole situation was a huge disappointment, especially as a Southwest loyalist. I lost out on much-needed time with my mom during the holidays because of her scheduling issues, and I’m still waiting to see whether I’ll ever see my bag again.