Who Got Frozen out of Holiday Travel Plans?

December 27, 2022, 12:24 PM · It's been a tough week to be traveling around the United States. Arctic cold, heavy snow and logistical snafus have stranded countless travelers across the country this week. Were you among them?

Winter travel always means elevated risk. Icy roads make driving treacherous, but it's the cold that poses the greatest danger when motorists and their passengers are get stranded outside. Flying means less risk from immediate harm, but no one wants to get stranded hundreds or thousands of miles from home, with no way to return... except for renting an expensive car and driving on those icy roads.

Not only did the recent arctic storm hit the United States right as millions of people were heading out for Christmas visits to family and popular vacation destinations, including Florida's Walt Disney World, the initial round of weather-related delays triggered a cascade of logistical problems for some airlines.

Southwest Airlines canceled more than 70 percent of its flights yesterday, and today announced what amounts to a hard reset of its system, as it has canceled all flights this week in many markets so that the company can reposition aircraft and crews. That's left Southwest passengers caught away from home to endure a nightmare of trying to make alternate plans to return. And those who were yet to fly out of their home airport now have their holiday vacation plans ruined.

Southwest's point-to-point cross-country routing system leaves the airline's entire network vulnerable to inclement weather anywhere in the nation, unlike with the multiple-hub-and-spoke systems used by Delta, United, and American, which can reroute crews and planes more effectively. Still, United's system took a hit when weather restricted flights at its Chicago and Denver hubs, while Delta took a smaller hit from the weather slowing its Minneapolis hub. American - with its major hubs in Texas, North Carolina, and California - appears to have done the best of U.S. airlines this week.

But Southwest's bigger problem came from its antiquated personnel system, which made it difficult for the company to reassign crews after weather-related cancelations, forcing even more flights to cancel.

This week provides a reminder that travel insurance that covers weather disruptions can be a good investment during the winter. And that budget airlines often have less resilience when things go wrong, so booking with a more expensive airline can in itself provide a form of insurance. But the actual insurance plan is usually your best bet.

If you are among those affected by this week's airline cancelations and delays, you can get information on what you are - or are not - entitled to from your airline, from the US Department of Transportation's Airline Customer Service Dashboard.

And if you would like to share your story from this week, please feel free to do so in the comments below.

Good luck and best wishes to everyone trying to navigate travel this holiday season.

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Replies (5)

December 27, 2022 at 12:44 PM

I have to say, I admire all those people who braved the coasters at IOA this morning. It was way too cold for me today ... LOL, but the biggest shout-out has to go to those amazing tourists who rode Bluto's bilge-rat barges. I am impressed beyond words.

Hulk and Hagrid's were 120, VC 85 .... and the barges were a walk on :)

December 27, 2022 at 2:56 PM

I’m in Western NY, where the blizzard hit, and have not been able to leave my home since Friday. No longer snowed in, just locked down by driving bans.

All I’ve done since Friday is work (from home) about 12 or 13 hour days, so there was no Holiday. When I get a “break” it’s been outside digging out.

We were fortunate enough to not lose power, so things could definitely have been worse, but it’s been one Holiday weekend I’ll never forget…

December 27, 2022 at 4:06 PM

Glad you’re safe @Chopper.

December 29, 2022 at 8:43 AM

Corporate America never ceases to amaze me. Southwest has two major meltdowns in two years where the whole company grinds to a halt...and they are blaming it on outdated IT systems not being able to recover from the weather downtime.

So basically someone upstairs didn't want to sign a check to invest in a system that works, so instead they grind the whole company to a halt losing billions of dollars, piss off hundreds of thousands of customers, and look like total buffoons in front of the whole world. They buy $100 million Boeings but can't buy a system that makes them actually operate. Now they are probably going to hire consultants and pay them a ridiculous amount of money to tell them everything their employees and managers already know and easily could have told them for free.

I've had the displeasure of working for companies that do stuff like this all the time.

December 29, 2022 at 5:31 PM

Thanks Jacob…it was one of those reminders of how much we take for granted.

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