On Oct. 11 at 4:45 a.m., Alexa Lee woke up to a text from Southwest Airlines canceling her flight from Omaha to Dallas. She was on the way to San Antonio from Petersburg, Nebraska, to be with her husband, Shannon, who was receiving cancer treatment that day.
“I was told I was placed on a flight the next day, Tuesday the 12th,” Lee said. “I then called the airline demanding an explanation and was specifically told that my flight was canceled due to ‘weather in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.’ But, when I checked the weather, there was nothing. The entire Midwest that we would fly over was completely sunny and perfect.”
Lee’s flight was one of the more than 2,000 flights canceled on the weekend of Oct. 10, sidelining passengers in airports all around the country.
Cass Didier, a high school Spanish teacher from Lincoln, was in Denver when her flight to Omaha was delayed for two hours.
“The delay meant my kids were going to stay at their grandparents one more night, instead of waiting for us to get home,” Didier said. “We had no confirmed reason [for the delay] from Southwest officially.”
After the cancellation, Lee started to look at other options to get from Omaha to San Antonio. However, only one other flight was available on a different airline.
“My [Southwest] ticket was non-refundable, and the one flight available out of Omaha that day was on a different airline,” Lee said. “I’d have to pay approximately $500 to get that flight, therefore taking a loss on my already paid-for ticket.”
Luckily, Lee was able to find a flight out of Grand Island for that afternoon, so she made the two-hour drive west.
“The fact that there was only one single flight available in the entire state of Nebraska to Texas that day was fishy,” Lee said. “The flights weren’t backed up or full. They were simply canceled and off the board.”
According to a statement from Southwest Airlines, many of the airline’s flights were canceled on Friday evening due to weather and “other external constraints.”
“[This] left aircraft and Crews out of pre-planned positions to operate our schedule on Saturday,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, the out-of-place aircraft and continued strain on our Crew resources created additional cancellations across our point-to-point network that cascaded through the weekend and into Monday.”
Jenna Hanson and her daughter, Emily (19) of Mead also experienced multiple flight cancellations on their trip to Omaha Oct. 30. They were flying home from the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis with American Airlines.
“We left Indianapolis Saturday afternoon for what was supposed to be a layover in Charlotte before returning to Omaha that night,” Hanson said. “As we were leaving the gate to go from Indianapolis to Charlotte, I got a text message telling me my flight from Charlotte to Omaha was canceled. There was no reason given.”
After booking multiple other flights, all of which were canceled, they were rebooked on a flight Nov. 2 directly from Charlotte to Omaha, three days later than their original return date.
“As we had other commitments, we looked at other airlines and decided to pay for tickets leaving Sunday on Delta,” Hanson said. “These were over $750 total for two tickets.”
They paid over $750 for these returning tickets alone. The roundtrip cost of their original tickets was $690.
Countless other passengers experienced delays and cancellations with both Southwest Airlines and American Airlines.
“In Charlotte, things were chaotic with long lines and limited resources,” Hanson said. “There was an entire wing that was for American Airlines, and no one was happy or leaving this area.”
Didier also saw an influx of travelers in Denver.
“There were people everywhere,” Didier said.
Hanson and her daughter are still waiting to receive refunds from American Airlines for their canceled flights in addition to compensation for the extra costs they incurred for the Delta flight and taxis around Charlotte.
“American [Airlines] has offered me $300 in airline credits for our troubles and extra costs,” Hanson said. “We had almost $1,000 in extra costs.”
Moving forward, Didier wants airlines to change how they handle delays and cancellations.
“I do hope pilots and flight attendants know their value,” Didier said. “I do wish airlines would be more gracious with cancellations and helping passengers move forward, especially financially, when the airlines cannot deliver what they set out to do.”
Nebraska News Service requested an interview with American Airlines but did not hear back.