Stranded Southwest passengers still waiting for refunds

Just weeks after the Southwest Airlines crash caused thousands of canceled flights and stranded passengers, the nation’s air travel system was briefly disrupted on Wednesday due to an outage in the computer system used by the Federal Administration of Aviation to give pilots vital information before take-off.

Although the FAA system was back online within hours and flights were slowly returning to schedule, those passengers whose lives were upended in last month’s Southwest debacle are still feeling the the effects of the merger and counting the financial damages they suffered.

Passengers who spoke to The Times said the fiasco cost them between $700 in one case (for gas costs) and $70,000 in another (for a ruined destination wedding).

“I’m trying to be patient and give them a chance to make things right,” said one of the stranded Southwest passengers, actor Deborah Rombaut. “What bothers me is that I don’t have a time frame as to when I will be reimbursed.”

Thousands of vacationers like Rombaut were stranded late last month when Southwest Airlines said its computer system that tracked crew schedules couldn’t keep up with a severe winter storm. According to the Department of Transportation, airlines canceled flights at a much higher rate than any other major airline.

The airline has since given each affected traveler 25,000 Loyalty Rewards points, which equates to about $300, and is issuing refunds and refunds.

“I’ve said it before, but I can’t say enough how much I feel the impact these challenges have had on our employees and customers,” Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said in a statement.

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called Southwest’s rate of cancellations “unacceptable.”

In December As of Dec. 28, Southwest canceled 59 percent of its flights, while other major airlines canceled just 3 percent, Buttigieg said in a letter to Southwest.

Travelers affected by the cancellations have been asked to submit their receipts for the additional costs incurred. Many have received their refunds for their airfare, but the process of accounting for the additional costs is difficult as would-be passengers scramble to travel long distances via other modes of transportation during a post-holiday rush.

Among the victims of the debacle is registered nurse Madeline Luzzo, who estimated she spent an extra $1,000 to fly home to Los Angeles from Dallas when Flight 26 was canceled in December 2015. Luzzo, her husband and sister drove 22 hours straight in a rental car, alternating drivers when the person behind the wheel couldn’t stay awake.

“It was horrible. I don’t recommend it,” Luzzo, 31, said.

The rental car cost $400 and over $250 was spent on gas. Luzzo said the trio ate nothing but fast food, which cost another $100. Then she had to pay two extra days for the dog sitter who was watching her pet at home.

“I’ve always loved Southwest, because they’re a major hub and my family is in Texas,” said Luzzo, who works at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “But on the way back, my husband kept saying, ‘I’ll never fly Southwest again.’ I’ll pay an extra $200 to go on another airline. And now I have a little 50/50.”

Kate Schelter and her daughters Zoe, 12, and Mila, 9, were on their way to Universal Studios Hollywood in December. Flight 26 from Oakland was canceled. When it became clear they wouldn’t be able to get another flight, Schelter’s husband drove the family’s car to the Oakland airport, and she and her daughters drove the car south.

Schelter received a refund Friday for her canceled flight, totaling $720 and the additional costs she paid for early check-in.

She also spent about $700 on gas, essential items she needed to buy for the road trip and an Uber ride for her husband to get home from the airport.

While Schelter and her daughters did not leave the Oakland airport on a plane, their luggage flew to Los Angeles without them. He also had to pay to park at LAX while the trio tried to retrieve their luggage at the Southwest terminal.

“Overall, it was an extremely stressful 24 hours, but we were able to move on after receiving our luggage,” Schelter said. “Fortunately, I had flexibility in my schedule to make the six-hour drive home.”

Rombaut estimates he spent about $1,200 to get home to Hollywood from Sacramento, which included money he spent reserving a rental car that never materialized.

His Christmas Day flight was canceled and so was his next flight the next day. Southwest didn’t offer him a hotel, so he stayed at a friend’s relative’s house in Sacramento.

“I was going to spend Christmas with my pets and roommates,” Rombaut said. “I ended up spending Christmas on my friend’s mom’s couch.”

Finally, he rented a luxury SUV, one of the last cars he could get at the rental counter. Rombaut met up with three other women who were also heading south from Sacramento, so they followed the unscheduled road trip.

Since arriving home, Rombaut has sent his detailed expenses to Southwest. You have received several automated emails assuring you that the airline has received your receipts.

As a member of the airline’s loyalty rewards program, Rombaut also earned a Southwest companion pass that allows him to bring another passenger on a flight for free, plus tax. Originally, Rombaut had planned to take a trip to Hawaii with her roommate, but now she’s having second thoughts.

“My roommate doesn’t want to be my roommate,” she said. “And I don’t think they have all their ducks in a row. I can’t wait to see how they do. I’m not really ready to be stuck in an airport again.”

But other passengers lost more than money and time during the cancellations.

Katie Demko of St. Louis missed her wedding, a destination wedding in Belize, the bride-to-be told Insider.

Demko’s fiance flew to Belize and the two were married in December. 30. But just as his plane was about to board in December. On the 27th, the pilot announced that there were not enough flight attendants for the trip.

“I cried the whole morning of December 30,” Demko told the new online magazine.

Southwest reimbursed Demko for missed flights and was able to reschedule some wedding services, such as the photographer and decor, but was unable to get refunds for everything.

The resort where her wedding guests were to stay told her that they could not provide a refund or postpone their reservations on such short notice.

He estimates his wedding party lost more than $70,000 from the rooms booked.

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