Southwest canceled thousands more flights on Wednesday amid an ongoing wave of travel chaos.
The airline’s struggles have started spilling over into the travel industry as a whole.
Stranded passengers are facing rental car shortages and ongoing delays.
Southwest Airlines’s ongoing cancelation chaos has reverberated throughout the entire travel industry, indirectly impacting scores of passengers beyond the thousands of already-displaced Southwest travelers, many of whom remain stranded in airports across the US following a wave of flight cancelations.
Of the more than 3,000 flight cancellations in the US on Wednesday, Southwest was responsible for more than 80%, according to flight tracking website FlightAware. The company announced Tuesday that affected passengers won’t be able to rebook their flights until Saturday, December 31.
The deadly winter storm that whipped through the country over the weekend ruined plans for hordes of holiday travelers, but Southwest’s antiquated and atypical systems left the airline uniquely vulnerable to fallout from the conditions, airline experts said Tuesday.
While many airlines seemed to be returning to normal operations as the week began, Southwest’s struggles have now seeped into the travel ecosystem at large, forcing other domestic airlines and rental car companies to try and meet skyrocketing demand.
Other airlines are caught up in the Southwest snowball effect
Waleska Rivera, 43, isn’t even a Southwest ticket holder, but she blames the airline for her travel mishaps even still, she told Insider on Wednesday.
The Colorado woman and her family were booked on a JetBlue flight from Denver to San Juan, Puerto Rico, scheduled to depart late Tuesday evening with a connection through New York, she said. On Tuesday afternoon, JetBlue announced that the first leg of their trip had been delayed, rendering any chance of making their New York connection fruitless, Rivera said.
Anxious to reach her injured mother in Puerto Rico, Rivera hopped on the phone looking to rebook as soon as possible.
“The first thing JetBlue tells me is to cancel my travel,” Rivera said. “Don’t travel,” she said the airline representative told her.
Rivera explained that she was desperate to reach her elderly mother who took a tumble earlier this month, asking for rebookings, refunds, anything to assuage her frustration. The airline, she said, didn’t offer to rebook the family on a different airline, nor did JetBlue provide compensation, Rivera said, initially blaming the delay on weather conditions.
The soonest Rivera could be rebooked to Puerto Rico was this coming Friday, she said. The JetBlue representative told her that displaced Southwest passengers have been snatching up available tickets, inadvertently displacing JetBlue passengers who need to rebook after their own delays or cancellations.
A spokesperson for JetBlue did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
With Southwest’s operations essentially stalled, thousands of stranded passengers have turned to other airlines, leading to a spike in demand for tickets during what is already one of the busiest travel periods of the year.
Twitter users have shared screenshots of outrageous ticket prices across several different airlines amid the pandemonium, with costs climbing upwards of $2,000 for a single domestic ticket in some instances, prompting accusations of price-gouging.
American Airlines and Delta both said they would cap fares for select cities, but ticket prices continued to climb Wednesday amid increasing demand. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg told NexstarDC on Wednesday that he was talking with airlines to try and keep them from taking advantage of passengers.
The tumult is no longer exclusive to air travel
Stranded Southwest passengers have increasingly turned to other forms of travel as they search for solutions, leading to rental car shortages at airports across the country.
Several rental companies at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport were completely out of rental cars on Tuesday, even as desperate passengers stood in line for hours hoping to secure transportation, according to WBALTV-1.
Travelers in St. Louis faced a similar struggle. Passengers who weren’t lucky enough to secure a car before the supply ran out, spent the night on the floor of Midway Airport, while others sought strangers with which to carpool, KTVI reported.
An Enterprise Rent-A-Car manager in Houston told KRIV that desperate people shelled out $1,000 to $2,000 to get a car before the store ran out of vehicles.
A spokesperson with Enterprise Holdings, which oversees Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental, and Alamo, told Insider on Wednesday that the companies have seen a “significant increase” for rental requests in recent days at both airport and neighborhood locations, including a “large jump” in one-way rental requests.
A Hertz representative offered similar sentiments in a statement to Insider, saying the company was dealing with increased demand for new bookings, reservation modifications, and one-way rentals.
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