Dec 29, 2022 - Economy

Southwest passengers stuck in a "free for all" baggage claim nightmare

Stranded Southwest Airlines passengers looks for their luggage in the baggage claim area at Chicago Midway International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, on December 28, 202

Stranded Southwest Airlines passengers looks for luggage iat Chicago Midway on Dec. 28, 2022. Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images

Lost luggage is piling up at airports nationwide as the recent Southwest cancellations and delays continue to wreak havoc on holiday travel schedules.

The big picture: Southwest's flight cancellation problems — sparked by extreme winter weather but exacerbated by the airline's business model and antiquated systems — have left some passengers stranded without their bags and unsure how to find them.

The latest: Southwest had 2,362 flights canceled by 10 a.m. ET Thursday, about 58% of its operations, according to FlightAware data. Another 61 flights were delayed.

Southwest lost baggage piles up

What we're seeing: A mess.

  • Southwest Airlines told Axios in an email Thursday that it does not have specific lost luggage numbers to share. But photos and videos show piles and piles of bags stacked outside baggage claim carousels nationwide.
  • Security guards and police officers are watching over bags that have arrived ahead of their owners. Passengers are waiting in line to find lost luggage. And some passengers' bags are being moved to other areas of airports to make way for even more bags.
  • "It was a free for all and then they had to move them for another flight’s incoming luggage," Southwest passenger Crystal Muñoz told USA Today at Honolulu International Airport. "Anyone could have taken any bag."

Hundreds of people waited in line at St. Louis Lambert International Airport earlier this week to find their missing luggage, KSDK reports.

  • The line became so long that Southwest Airlines agents told travelers to head home and they'd receive a phone call about their bags, according to the station.
Stranded Southwest Airlines passengers looks for their luggage in the baggage claim area at Chicago Midway International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, on December 28, 2022.
Stranded Southwest Airlines passengers look for their luggage on Dec. 28, 2022. Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images

In Dallas, bags piled up and remained unclaimed at Dallas Love Field. Passengers reported finding one of their bags, but with others still missing.

  • "They said don't worry your bags will get to Dallas before you, and I was like, 'that don't make no sense,' but when we got here our bags weren't here," Jailon Welch, a Southwest passenger, told KDFW.

One passenger at Nashville International Airport told WKRN that she went shopping at Target for an outfit because her lost luggage had all her clothes.

In Denver, passengers are grabbing chairs as they wait for their luggage, according to Denver 7.

  • "I do give them the benefit of the doubt, you know, that they're working hard, but, you know, I'm hoping that I find my luggage, too," passenger Patricia Barnes told the ABC News affiliate.

And one science teacher, Brittany Loubier-Vervisch, became the hero of the day by sifting through the "Armageddon of luggage" at Tampa International Airport and texting passengers to let them know their bags had arrived, Insider reports.

Stranded Southwest Airlines passengers looks for their luggage in the baggage claim area at Chicago Midway International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, on December 28, 2022
Stranded Southwest Airlines passengers look for their luggage on Dec. 28, 2022. Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images

What's happening: The delays and cancellations are impacting travelers and their schedules.

  • One passenger, Taylor Harris, told the Chicago Sun-Times that he and his children sat at their gate for a flight to Raleigh, North Carolina, for two hours before it was canceled without an announcement from Southwest agents.
  • Some passengers are taking matters into their own hands. Cameron Wright told ABC 11 in North Carolina that he bought a new car to avoid the airport travel mess.
  • Wright said he went to a nearby dealership and bought a Toyota Camry, adding that he was quoted $2,400 for a rental.

Southwest refund, reimbursements are available

What's next: Southwest currently has a self-service tool available that allows customers impacted by travel disruptions to submit a request for a refund or rebook flights.

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