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If your flight is canceled by the airlines, ask for a refund

Readerboard Sacramento Airport 12-27-22 IMG_1753Unfortunately, I got caught up in the Southwest Airlines holiday flight cancellation debacle around Christmas.

Scheduled to return home at 10:45 Monday Dec. 26, I was shocked when my daughter came in my room just as I finished dressing and began packing to go to the airport and said my flight had been canceled.

Southwest’s inability to handle winter storms with its outdated computer system and unusual operating method is making headlines across the nation.

Southwest uses a “point-to-point” route model that often lets passengers fly directly from smaller cities and regions without having to stop at a central hub such as Denver or New York, according to The New York Times. Point-to-point flights cut travel times by eliminating the intermediate stop – typically a big advantage for travelers who’re not flying from major metro areas.

Other large carriers such as United and American rely on a “hub-and-spoke” model in which planes usually fly from smaller cities to a hub airport where passengers change planes, the article said.

Because Southwest is the largest airline in 23 of the top 25 travel markets in the United States, when the severe weather led to many canceled flights, it resulted in airplanes and crew members being out of position in dozens of cities, Southwest Airlines said in a statement.

My first idea was to call Southwest and get a new flight. However, my daughter lives on a farm in a rural area where the telephone service is sometimes spotty. I tried calling Southwest to get ready for what would be a long time on hold. However, neither my cell phone nor my daughter’s could make a connection to Southwest.

My daughter had a suggestion: Get a new ticket. I checked the Southwest website. There was one ticket left for Tuesday afternoon. I typed in my information and the numbers for a $100 travel voucher I’d received for a delayed bag on my way to Sacramento. It didn’t work. A message with some innocuous numbers appeared; I assumed that meant the ticket was gone.

I tried three more times. No luck.

I decided to try again, not put in my voucher number, and include my Southwest Rapid Rewards number. Boom. It worked. I had a ticket for 10:20 p.m. Tuesday. It cost $469 for the one-way ticket. That was about what my two-way ticket had cost.

I’d purchased my ticket through my credit union’s rewards program. I called them to find out how to get my money back for the canceled ticket. They said to call Southwest. No way I was going to call – even if I could get through – and wait on hold for hours. I’d ask about it at the airport.

Throughout Tuesday, I checked on the status of my flight. It was delayed and the time kept changing: 12:23 a.m.; 12:54 a.m.; 1:52 a.m.; 12:06 a.m.; 12:48 a.m.; and 1:24 a.m.

I had my daughter drop me off at the airport. We checked the flight status just before I got out of the car to see if it was canceled. It said the plane would leave at 1:24 a.m.

At the airport, the staff said as far as they knew the flight was a go. However, you couldn’t be sure until you were actually boarded and the plane took off.

I asked the ticketing agent for a refund for my canceled flight. Note, the term refund. If the airline cancels the flight, you’re entitled to a refund. You need to ask for it because the airline often would prefer to give you a travel voucher.

The ticketing agent said, no, he couldn’t give me a refund because the ticket was issued by a third party. He did give me a voucher for $300; everyone who had a canceled ticket was getting $200. He gave me an extra $100 because I’d been unable to use my $100 voucher for the delayed bag.

It sounded like the run-around. The credit union said Southwest would give me the refund; Southwest said the third-party issuer would give me the refund.

After waiting a couple of hours, the plane did take off about 1:24 a.m. It was ironic. The flight was half or more empty. The gate agent had to come in and tell nine people to move to the back to balance the airplane before it took off.

If so many people were stranded due to canceled flights, why weren’t there more passengers for a flight that did go to Seattle?

I got home at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. I was lucky to find a Southwest flight that wasn’t canceled.

After a long nap, I called the credit union and asked to speak to a supervisor about getting a refund for my canceled flight. She said, yes, the credit union would ask Southwest for a refund for the unused portion of my ticket. It would take four to six weeks.  


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