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Thinking Outside of the Box: The Crazy Way I Navigated Southwest’s Epic Meltdown!

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Navigated Southwest Airlines Meltdown

Navigated Southwest Airlines Meltdown

Southwest has melted down in epic fashion this week, and almost everyone flying them was affected to some degree, myself included. My situation was easier to manage than others, but still required some quick thinking and points in reserve for emergencies. In this post I’ll tell you how I navigated the Southwest Airlines meltdown and provide some tips along the way.

A Pleasant Start

It started harmlessly enough. My wife, 4 year old son, and I were finishing a lovely 4 day trip to Disneyland, a trip we do a few times a year. It’s close to where we live in Las Vegas, and it’s a quick and cheap flight with Southwest to and from Long Beach. I love that airport, because it’s closer to the parks than LAX, not very busy, and has a nice open layout. We’ve done this trip a bunch of times without any hiccups. We were booked to come back on a late afternoon flight on Christmas Eve, which was even cheaper than normal, probably because it’s not an ideal travel time.

I have to work on Christmas day, and my job would not be very forgiving if I no-showed on one of the busiest days of the year. But, I figured we would be okay as long as I got home at some point that night. The weather reports were rolling in, but I was hopeful since we were out west, we could be okay, and that hopefully crew positioning wouldn’t be any issue. I checked periodically before leaving our hotel, and we were still on time and solid when we left for the airport.

Southwest Airlines and Walt Disney Resort(R) celebrate 50 years of memories and magic. Photo credit Stephen M. Keller / Southwest Airlines.

Signs of Trouble

I arrived to a massive line at the bag drop. We usually check a bag and put all our things in there, since we are still traveling with a car seat and stroller. It makes it a bit easier to manage the actual traveling portion of the day. Normally, it takes 5 minutes to drop the bag and go through TSA Precheck at LGB, but not today! The full service line was being utilized for rebooking passengers and was very long, so the bag drop line was now being used as a full service line.

It took roughly 45 minutes to drop my bag, but everything was still on time. We go though security and head to the gate, everything seeming normal around a flight’s boarding time. I get in line at the customer service desk to get a gate check for our stroller, like always, with a couple people in front of me. Then, right at boarding time, we get the dreaded, “Sorry, we don’t have a pilot for this flight” announcement, and the flight gets cancelled, and on top of that, there’s no more flights scheduled to Las Vegas that day. Uh-oh.

Navigated Southwest Airlines Meltdown
I can assure you the terminal looked nothing like this! In all of the chaos I forgot to take photos.

A Worst Case Scenario

It’s important in these moments to just try to act quickly, because the limited solutions that might be available will disappear once others get over the anger and frustration of the situation and try to figure out their own answers, and you want to beat people to the punch. A giant line formed behind me for customer service, but luckily, I was already in line and next up. While I waited, I immediately opened the Southwest app and checked for flights at LAX and Orange County. Nothing the rest of the day.

I checked for Christmas Day, nothing. The earliest the website showed was Tuesday. I checked other airlines from these airports, nothing until Tuesday with any of them. Big problem. If I call out of work for 3 days during this period, I’m probably looking for a new job. Also, I want to get my 4 year old home for Christmas. While I normally get hot tempered about certain things, I remained calm, because I knew I needed my focus sharp to solve this puzzle.

It was my turn at customer service, so I figured I would take whatever rebooking I could get, and try to improve on it from there, because the longer I waited to book something, the worse it would be, with an entire flight of people behind me. I took a Tuesday afternoon flight booking, and also received 3 $200 LUV vouchers for the inconvenience. I stuffed those in my bag, and took my family out of the airside area. With it being a small airport, our checked bag was already out at baggage claim, so no issue there. I found a bench area for my wife and son to stay, and went on to my next attempt to fix the issue, renting a car. I figured I could move and act quicker if I was focused on that, while my wife kept our son occupied.

LGB is one of the nicer small airports in the country. Super easy to get in and out of and closer to Disney than LAX!

Renting A Car Wasn’t So Easy

It’s only a 4 hour drive to Las Vegas from Long Beach, but I wanted to hurry to the rental car building, which is right in the main complex, before either all the cars were gone, or they closed for the day. I wasn’t sure what their hours would be, being a small airport and Christmas Eve, and it was already 5 pm by now. I have status with both Hertz and Avis, so these were my first thoughts to look. I figured I could do a one way rental an drop it off at Las Vegas. I was fortunate that my $300 Sapphire Reserve travel credit was available to me, so I figured that would offset the likely high rental cost.

While walking over I checked the Hertz app and unfortunately it showed no availability. I arrived at the building, and thankfully, the companies are all right next to each other, and the crowd hadn’t found its way there yet. I asked the Hertz rep if anything was available, nothing. Status wasn’t helpful either. I went in the Avis line behind one person and was able to make a booking. The Avis rep wouldn’t honor the reservation, and status wasn’t useful there either. My last option was Budget. I got behind one person there, whom I overheard making a booking, so I was hopeful. They had a car! I asked if it would be possible to do a one way rental.

They did call and inquire, but wouldn’t do it. Either way, I figured I would just take the car, drive my family home, and then drive it back in a few days on my next off day from work. I could solve the problem of getting my family home for Christmas, and avoid major punitive action from my employer. One step at a time, and figure the rest out later. The car was a good comfortable size, and my son actually slept almost the entire way home. I was grateful to have acted quickly, because by the time I had received my keys, there was a long line of people behind me. So it pays to think quickly and act fast!

Navigated Southwest Airlines Meltdown
Thankfully Budget got me something a little better than this!

Problem Solved Right?!?

Christmas saved and story over! Right? Not quite. We had a good Christmas, and I went to work without a hiccup, but I still had to return the car on Wednesday, and Southwest was still melting down. When I got home on Christmas Eve, I cancelled my wife and son’s bookings, returning the points and travel funds without an issue. I rescheduled my flight to Wednesday afternoon, which would give me enough time to get up in the morning and drive back without waiting too long to get home. I was glad I adjusted the flight right away, because it was the next morning when Southwest took the ability to book or change flights off the board until Saturday.

The next thing to sort out would be how to get back once I dropped the car off on Wednesday. I had a little wiggle room, since I had off until Friday. But, my thought on Monday was to book a backup flight now if possible, because there were reports of price gouging from the other airlines, who are often quick to exploit these situations. I found a flight Thursday evening from LAX on American for 10k miles, and this was the only somewhat acceptable backup plan, and it was able to be cancelled if needed.

I also scouted some hotels with Hyatt and Hilton to possibly stay Wednesday night, but I wanted to wait until my flight was officially cancelled before locking that in. I had also scouted times to take a bus back overnight from Downtown LA, although that really isn’t something I wanted to do. I’ve done it in the past, when I used to travel to LA for performing gigs a lot, but it’s just not optimal for me. I had also considered dropping off the car at the Las Vegas airport anyway, but after reading my rental agreement, it said they could charge anywhere from $300 to $2500 if I did that. No thanks on that.

Would My Flight Be Canceled?

Wednesday morning rolled around, and my flight was one of only three from Long Beach the entire day that wasn’t cancelled, and only one of originally six to Las Vegas from there that wasn’t cancelled. So, maybe I would be one of the lucky few with an operational flight. Either way, I had my options ready to go as soon as the flight cancellation occurred, if so. To my surprise, the flight went out and on time! There were a bunch of empty seats, and I actually sat in the exit row, so I was pleasantly surprised. Just to be safe, I waited until I landed in Las Vegas to cancel my backup flight.

Navigated Southwest Airlines Meltdown – Bottom Line

In summation, when these things happen, it is so helpful to have miles, points, and credits at the ready to make quick bookings, help defray high costs, and make backup plans so you don’t get stuck sleeping in an airport for days. Sometimes, you need a little luck as well, which I definitely had in this case. We all get frustrated when airlines fail us for reasons that aren’t weather related. But, the key is already have an idea in your head of what you might do if things go wrong.

Every trip I take, big or small, I’ve thought of contingency arrangements I could utilize if things go wrong. As for this trip, I ended up with $600 in LUV vouchers, rebooking some other flights to use those up. After using my Sapphire credit on my rental car, I’m out about $125 for that. I plan on submitting those for reimbursement, so hopefully they will come through. I hope that my data point can help some of you have some ideas of how and what to do the next time this happens. Travel safe and smart!

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Ryan Flanigan
Ryan Flanigan
Ryan is a life-long entertainer with a love of travel from years of performing all over the world. He lives in Las Vegas, and has a beautiful wife and 4 year old son that he loves to go on adventures with.

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. “avoid major punitive action from my employer”

    You work for an employer who will punish you for something you had no control over and that affected something like a million of other people? Instead of going through these travel booking gymnastics you should apply your resourcefulness to finding yourself a new job where they would (at a minimum) treat you like a human being.

  2. Nicely done Ryan!

    Another possible option is Uber. When I lived about 2 1/2 hours from O’Hare, I Ubered home 5 or 6 times. I just messaged the drivers and told them I’d given them a cash tip of $X and that I’d be happy to cancel the ride if they didn’t want the long trip. No one declined, and they all seemed very happy with the arrangement. Ride cost was $180 to $240 plus a cash tip of $50 to $100. Not likely the cheapest option, but it was the fastest one!


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