Southwest flight cancellations left these Phoenix travelers 'stuck' in holiday meltdown

Corina Vanek Sasha Hupka
Arizona Republic
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Nora Croutier, an industrial engineer who lives in Phoenix, expected to spend Christmas with her family in New York. Instead, she spent the holiday waiting in an airport after being stranded in Kansas City when a canceled flight left her there for days on what was supposed to be a short layover.

Her story of getting stuck for days in a city where she did not have family was similar to thousands of other travelers around the country, as airlines — mostly Southwest Airlines — canceled flights for days, blaming the recent winter storm. The cancellations forced people to miss trips, spend nights in different cities and extend their stays long past the Christmas weekend.

Croutier often flies on Southwest Airlines for work and said she uses that airline as often as she can. Even though they don’t offer a direct flight from Phoenix, she picked one with what she thought would be a simple layover in Kansas City. Though her flights from Phoenix were canceled Thursday and Friday because of the storm, she was finally able to fly out on Saturday.

Her flight arrived in Kansas City, but then Croutier's flight to New York was canceled. After spending most of the day in the airport trying to book another flight home, Croutier, who was traveling with her cat, decided to rent a car to pick up some cat supplies and check into a hotel for the night.

The night would be one of two she spent in the hotel in Kansas City, far from home on the holiday.

Eventually, Croutier got on an American Airlines flight to Chicago and then a flight to Philadelphia, a few hours from her parents’ place in New York. Her parents went to get her in Philadelphia, and Croutier finally made it home by about 3 p.m. Monday — the day after Christmas. Her checked bags also made it to New York, and she and her family had to drive to LaGuardia Airport to get them.

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Accommodating stranded travelers

Eric Everts, a spokesman for Sky Harbor International Airport, said the airport had additional staff on hand to help assist airlines, passengers and airport partners during the cancellations to make sure necessary services were available to customers.

Local hotel operators said they handled any guests needing to extend their stay as needed, but said they were able to accommodate those who needed a room.

Lee Vinciguerra, director of sales and marketing for the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel, said the hotel has not had very many guests who have needed to extend as the result of a canceled flight.

Weather delays and flight cancellations created a busy Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix on Dec. 28, 2022.

“We just take it case by case and extend reservations as we are able,” she said in an email. “The Valley will continue to get busier as we approach New Year’s Eve and the Fiesta Bowl, downtown no exception, so hopefully the weather improves around the country and the airlines can get passengers back on the roads and traveling!”

A search for hotels near Sky Harbor International Airport Tuesday showed many room options available within a mile or so from the airport, with many hotels offering rooms for about $130 per night.

Thomas Delaney, general manager for the Hyatt Regency Phoenix, said the hotel had not seen an influx of stranded passengers over the holiday.

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Trying to vacation in Phoenix

Elizabeth Law and her mother, from Philadelphia, were planning to spend five days in Phoenix to visit family. The two didn’t know that their flight was canceled until they were in line for security at the airport and looked at a video screen to find their gate.

The employee at the ticket counter said they couldn’t be rebooked until December 30, which did not work with their travel plans.

Law and her mother eventually booked tickets on United Airlines from Newark, New Jersey, to Phoenix on Wednesday. The two had to drive from Philadelphia to Newark to get to the new flight, which had them in Phoenix at about midnight Wednesday.

Staying home after cancellations

Caroline Meek and her fiancé had wanted to travel to Phoenix from the Bay Area to visit family for Christmas.

They went to the airport in Oakland on Christmas Eve to be faced with a four-hour delay when there was no plane ready to take them. Even after a plane arrived, passengers were told their flight was canceled because there was no pilot available, Meek said via text message.

After the flights were rebooked and canceled multiple times, the couple chose to go home and spend the holidays there.

“We’re just glad we got stuck at home instead of some layover airport,” she said.

Dani Edwards, a teacher in Phoenix, had been hoping to travel to South Bend, Indiana, to visit relatives she hadn’t seen in years.

But on December 22, one day before she was scheduled to leave, Allegiant Airlines notified her that the flight out of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport was canceled indefinitely. She looked at other options to go visit her family, but other airlines had flights that were way beyond her budget.

Now, she’s going to try to visit her family for spring break instead. She’s making the best of staying home, instead of being in Indiana where the high temperature on Christmas Day was 13 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

“Phoenix was beautiful on Christmas,” she said.

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