Editorial & Opinion

Travelers Beware: Flying Southwest Airlines Can Have Severe Consequences

Southwest Airlines can and will delay or cancel your flight at any time for any reason and you will be left completely on your own to figure out what to do once this happens. You will be offered no compensation of any kind, and there are no federal laws to protect you.
Photo for Travelers Beware: Flying Southwest Airlines Can Have Severe Consequences

Published on November 23, 2021
By Greg Brailsford

The first time I flew with Southwest Airlines (SWA) was January, 1999. My mother took me to Walt Disney World for the first time. I was impressed by how we were treated at the gate. I enjoyed the flight attendants cracking jokes and making the flight safety instructions enjoyable. When we landed we learned that SWA had screwed up, and in doing so actually created a customer for life. Our bags never made it onto our plane. They were put on a different plane and would not be in the right place until the following morning. But SWA took immediate ownership: “Where is your destination…? There is a Walmart nearby. Go there and buy whatever toiletries you need for the night. If you need something to wear for the night, go ahead and get it. Bring us the receipt on your return flight and we will be sure you’re reimbursed…..we will have a courier deliver your suitcases to your door tomorrow morning.” Wow! I was only 19 years old at the time but I knew then who I was going to fly from then on. I was comforted that even if SWA got it wrong, they would go out of their way to make it right.

Shortly after 9/11, we flew Southwest to Orlando and through our own fault we were running late to our flight. We checked our bags at TF Green (PVD) and ran towards the gate. When we reached it, we expected the flight to have already left – it was 3 minutes past departure time. Instead, a gate attendant was waiting by the door cheering for us to run on in. We couldn’t believe they waited for us – shocked! It was our fault we were late and they had no obligation to wait. We expected to miss the flight. But we didn’t because they had the amazing courtesy to wait, knowing we were in the airport. Over the coming decade, Southwest would go on to dominate the share of flights in and out of TF Green Airport here in RI, and I am sure service like that had a lot to do with it. Since then, our family has flown on countless flights, of which 95% were on Southwest Airlines. We never encountered any big issues. But when we did recently, we learned Southwest is nothing like it used to be.

Last weekend, our family took a long-awaited trip to a family resort near Cancun, Mexico. The trip to Mexico was rather uneventful. Mexico does not require a COVID-19 test/vaccine to enter the country so flying in was more or less like flying before the pandemic. However, our return flight to the United States was anything but routine. Disastrous would be putting it mildly, and Southwest was instrumental in creating the worst travel experience I have ever been a part of in 20+ years of travel.

They recommend you arrive at the airport for international travel 3 hours in advance. Before COVID-19, this was largely unnecessary and we often found ourselves waiting 2 hours after going through security. Not anymore. The US’s policy of refusing to allow its own vaccinated citizens back into the country without proof of a days-old negative COVID-19 test has resulted in baggage check-in times easily exceeding an hour during even slow times as airline reps scrutinize everyone’s test paperwork (and they certainly do). Once past baggage check, you then have to show a silly attestation bar code that confirms you filled out an online form saying you don’t have COVID-19, even though you just proved this already at the baggage check. Then you pass Mexican customs – this doesn’t take long. Next it’s onto security. Because Mexico doesn’t do security theater, you don’t have to remove your shoes. The lines were reasonably quick. We grabbed some food and walked to our gate. For some reason, the Southwest gates are almost always the furthest possible distance from the security checkpoint, so you get your steps in for sure.

We arrived at the gate but next came something really strange that I have never witnessed: Southwest ticket personnel began calling random passengers to the desk, and proceeded to pull them aside where security personnel began rummaging through their personal carry-ons – even though they already went through security. These were all people plucked from families traveling with children. Clearly, there was no common sense with regards to this extra screening. It was a gross invasion of privacy as this was done in front of everyone in line. Each eventually returned to their families confused as to why they were selected. We boarded the plane 45 minutes after its scheduled departure time. Then we waited roughly 15 minutes for a late-arriving passenger to board (remember this for later). Next, we taxied the runway for another hour, and finally took off. After all of these delays, we were now due to arrive to our connecting flight in Baltimore (BWI) with just an hour to spare.

Upon arriving in Baltimore, we went through customs. Even though our flight was the only one in line, it took 45 minutes to get through. Of the 20+ lanes available, only 2 were open. We grabbed our bags from baggage claim and re-checked them at the SWA desk, as you have to do on Intl. flights. The SWA baggage desk directed us to security and said we would make it, radioed to the gate that we are en route, and told us to run once through security. We arrived at security with 15 minutes to go. Despite only 4 people in front of us, it took 15 minutes for us to get through. Because one of TSA’s finest decided that a family with two young children is a terrorist threat and we might blow up the plane, they took my wife’s bag aside for extra screening. They slow walked it and it took 10 minutes to get it back to us. We ran to the gate as fast as we could and arrived there at 8:03pm, 3 minutes after departure time. It was a ghost town. The plane was gone, the gate attendants were gone. Despite knowing our family and another couple were en route, despite knowing that it was the last flight of the night, despite the delay being caused by Southwest, and despite routinely waiting far longer for late passengers to board, Southwest would not wait 3 minutes for us to reach the gate. They abandoned us at the airport. A minute later, I received a text that my flight was rebooked….for 11:45am the next day. Another couple running alongside us got a text too, but their next available flight to PVD wasn’t for two days!

We approached the SWA desk. The rep was powerless to do anything for us and seemed exhausted. We asked for a supervisor. After 10 minutes, we were approached by a supervisor named Eric A. We explained the situation and how upset we were that SWA caused our delay getting us to BWI but didn’t have the courtesy to wait a couple of minutes, knowing we were approaching the gate. He was unhelpful and uncaring as anyone could possible have been in this situation. He explained that Southwest accepts no responsibility for the delays they caused at Cancun, that they would not find us a flight home on another carrier, that we would need to find a hotel in Baltimore at our expense, get there at our expense, and there would be no compensation of any kind. The other couple in the same situation was told the same, and were equally outraged. It was on this day I learned that the Southwest Airlines of 2021 is a shell of the SWA that existed years ago.

My wife ran over to the flights board and saw that a flight to Hartford, CT was leaving in an hour. We could fly there, rent a car, and drive 2 hours home. The desk agent confirmed they had room and moved our flight to Hartford. The other couple did the same. We landed in Hartford around 11pm, rented a car for $200, and drove home, arriving at 1:30am. In the end, Southwest Airlines created a situation, and then refused to offer even the least they could do: recommending a flight landing nearby. We had to do this ourselves. While the proper resolution would have been to get us on a flight with another carrier that night, they also could have put us up in a nearby hotel. This would have cost them a few hundred dollars, and they would have saved a customer. Even looking up nearby flights and covering our rental car cost might have saved them from the worst of our disgust. Instead, they completely absolved themselves of responsibility. While waiting for our flight to Hartford I learned that when SWA had to cancel 2,000+ flights several weeks ago, those passengers too received absolutely nothing from SWA, despite the cancellations being entirely Southwest’s fault. The moral of this story is that Southwest Airlines can and will delay or cancel your flight at any time for any reason and you will be left completely on your own to figure out what to do once this happens. You will be offered no compensation of any kind, and there are no federal laws to protect you. If a delay or cancellation has never happened to you, you likely assume the airline will take care of you if such were to occur. While several airlines do have written policies to help compensate customers who are inconvenienced this way, Southwest Airlines offers nothing. After this experience, I have sworn off flying with SWA regardless of their price and recommend travelers carefully consider whether flying SWA is worth the risk.

I asked the other couple, John Notarianni and his wife of Scituate, RI, who shared this experience alongside us to provide their thoughts: “I’m trying to wrap my head around what happened to my wife and I as well as your family. I have always felt it’s how you deal with a situation that defines you and your company. When our plane was boarding, they took the time to call for a passenger three times to make sure he was on board. After about ten minutes he showed up. This delayed our departure time. Once we disembarked the plane in Baltimore, went through customs, and picked up our luggage we didn’t have much time to make the flight. At 804 pm we arrived at the gate to find the plane leaving.  We were upset, but were ready to see what the airline could do to get us home. As we were trying to think of options for us to try to get home, the Southwest agent offered zero help. They did not have an agreement with any other airline to get passengers on another flight. They did not offer to help us with a hotel, or rental car. We were told to sleep in the airport. My wife asked to speak to a supervisor. When he came we were told that it wasn’t their fault and they would not help in any way, and walked away from all of us. I could not believe they just abandoned us with no concern at all. I believe it was your wife and not the airline that found a flight leaving for Hartford leaving in an hour. We were able to be put on that flight. Once we landed, I then discovered my luggage was still in Baltimore. We now had to now figure out how to get home from there which is typically a two hour ride. We did make it home at 200am but should have been home at 930pm.  On top of all this I had to be at work at 700 in the morning which I didn’t make it and lost even more money.  I have used Southwest several times in the past. I never have felt this abandoned or frustrated with any company before. I feel they should take the heart off their airplanes that they are so proud to advertise. Southwest clearly have lost their way. They usually say that you have a lot of choices of airlines and we thank you for choosing us. They are right and I will not be choosing Southwest again.

Now a quick change of pace…..on this same trip, while in Mexico, our T-Mobile data plan was not working. We could call and text, but cell data was not working, despite a full signal. I will post the DM conversation between myself and T-Mobile. Spot the contrast between how they handled the situation and how SWA handled our situation:

Some basic phone troubleshooting was performed at this point. I’ll save you those DMs since they aren’t that important. We pick up after the troubleshooting is finished…

In the end, T-Mobile credited our account $50, offered to unlock the phone for International use with any Mexican SIM card, and direct us to a place where we could obtain the SIM, that they would pay for, if absolutely necessary. While their politeness in the DMs might come across as the typical corporate over-the-top helpful tone, they absolutely backed it up with action. They messed up by selling me an add-on that I could not actually use, and then owned the problem, leaving me a satisfied customer and a bit blown away by the attention I got. To recap, we paid Southwest Airlines $2,000+ and when they caused a problem that left us abandoned at the airport 400 miles away from home, offered nothing. T-Mobile receives a whopping $65/mo from us and when they caused an issue that wasn’t nearly as big a deal, compensated us $50 and spent several days DMing me back and forth. Two completely different worlds of customer service.

Rear View

  • Gas prices continue to rise nationwide, both for gasoline and natural gas. There are several factors at play, none of which are the fault of the Biden Administration, contrary to popular belief. I am no fan of Biden’s but facts matter. Despite conservative claims that we are oil independent, we still import nearly 40 million barrels of oil every month from OPEC countries. If we were truly energy independent, that would not be necessary. But the truth is that OPEC production continues to play a role in gas prices here. Unfortunately, OPEC’s largest member, Saudi Arabia has taken a hardline stance against the Biden Administration for daring to hold them accountable for their actions in the Middle East. As a result, OPEC has cut production and continues to hold back on output, with the intent that this would be politically damaging to Biden and give Republicans an advantage in coming elections. While this benefits the Saudis short-term, it also has the effect of rapidly accelerating the world’s embrace of electric vehicles and renewable energy, which sooner rather than later will destroy the value of Saudi Arabia’s vast oil reserves.
  • Over 8 months after receiving an enormously generous $1.13 billion from the federal government as part of COVID-19 relief, the State of Rhode Island has yet to spend any of it. Despite the funds being earmarked as the “American Rescue Plan Act”, Governor McKee and his administration have made no effort to spend any of the money on Rhode Island’s dire need for housing, rental assistance, and other areas heavily affected by COVID-19. Those are our tax dollars. Let this be a lesson to RI voters, especially Democratic voters: Primary elections have consequences. When you elect conservative Democrats, you get Republican policy. Republican policy is to do nothing. If you want your tax dollars spent on the things that matter, elect progressives. That is literally their whole ideology. It could not be any more clearer. Stop wasting your money. Get something for it.

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