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Cleveland Travelers Share Their Horror Stories On Southwest Airlines Vacation

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CLEVELAND, Ohio — Sleepless nights at the airport, endless lines — even threats of arrest.

It wasn’t the vacation travel experience anyone wanted.

Many Clevelanders were caught up in the confusion that was their vacation trip last week after a major winter storm caused an operational meltdown at Southwest Airlines. Other airlines were also affected, although none canceled nearly as many flights as Southwest, which cut two-thirds of its flights in the days after Christmas.

We asked readers to share their vacation travel woes, and we got an earful.

Gayle and Michael Simon of Pepper Pike were trying to get home from Phoenix on Christmas Day and got stuck at Chicago’s Midway Airport, where several connecting flights to Cleveland were first listed as being delayed — and late. and delayed – and finally cancelled.

“So we ran across the lobby and waited in line for two hours to get a reservation on the next flight,” Gayle Simon wrote in an email. “The next flight continued to be delayed, four different times, and each one ended up being cancelled. Again, we wait in line for two hours at a time!”

Eventually, she and her husband rented a car and headed home — but not before waiting in a six-hour queue to get their vehicle.

“The whole experience went beyond what any human being should experience in a lifetime for an airline,” she wrote. “The emotional distress and pain this has caused is priceless. There is no monetary value that can make up for what we went through. It was terrible. I hope there will be class action against them.”

Jennifer Morrison of Shaker Heights told the sobering story of her daughter and three grandchildren who spent hours at Nashville International Airport on Christmas night trying to fly to Cleveland.

Shelley Morrison received conflicting information about the status of her flight and got in line to find out what was going on. And that’s when things went from bad to worse.

“She got into an extremely long queue for clarification,” said Jennifer Morrison. “After waiting in line for almost an hour, the agent told travelers that she was closing the counter and security had been called to clear the area.”

She continued: “Long story short, the officer threatened to arrest my daughter, claiming a canceled flight meant her ticket was invalid and she would be arrested for trespassing if she didn’t leave the area. He wouldn’t listen as she tried to explain that she was trying to get clarification.”

Morrison’s granddaughter posted a TikTok video of the interaction, which was picked up by various media outlets, including WKRN-TV in Nashville, the Tennessean and the New York Times.

Shelley Morrison is still awaiting an apology for the way she was treated. Meanwhile, she and her daughters never made it to Cleveland for Christmas.

Not every story has a sad ending.

Ken Sislak of Shaker Heights said his 17-year-old grandson called from Denver on Christmas Eve to say that Southwest had canceled his flight. “He asked if I could find a way to get him home,” Sislak said.

“During my professional career, I logged a lot of miles with United and was a frequent flyer,” he said. “I logged into my FF account with United and found a seat on a nonstop Denver-Cleveland flight. The last available seat was a first class seat. I booked for him. He flew ‘home’ in first class instead of the middle seat in Group C in the SWA.”

Sislak added: “He was on time. Not his luggage. United forgot to carry your checked bag. United delivered its purse mid-morning on Christmas Day.

Jill Baker of North Royalton has also written a happy holiday travel story.

She and her husband, Bob, were due to fly to New York City on Dec. 23 to spend the holiday with their daughter’s family in Connecticut.

“We saw the big storm coming and my husband called Delta and they changed our flight to December 22nd with no change fee,” she wrote.

The son and daughter-in-law also came from Florida. “No real issues or delays for either of us and no lost luggage,” she wrote.

Joel Salon of Shaker Heights was not so lucky. On December 24, he was due to fly from Cleveland to Palm Springs, California via Denver to meet his daughter and grandchildren for Christmas. The United flight was delayed, in part, because the plane’s tires froze on the runway after brutal winter storm Elliott hit Cleveland the day before.

Once Salon realized he was going to miss his connection — and it would be days before he could reach California or get back to Cleveland — the crew allowed passengers to leave if they wanted to.

He got off the plane. Their bags, however, ended up in Palm Springs.

Halle DeLong and her family of six from Euclid drove to Columbus — twice — in an effort to find available seats on a plane to Houston to have a family reunion over the holidays. Its first flight, Dec. 26 from Cleveland on Southwest, was cancelled. Her son found six seats on a flight out of Columbus that night—but by the time they got to the airport, the TSA security checkpoint had closed for the day. (United apparently didn’t tell TSA it had a delayed flight.) They — and dozens of other frustrated passengers — couldn’t make it to the plane.

“That’s when the reality kicked in that we might not make it to Houston,” DeLong said. “There were tears, screams and our group of six was split if we pressed or waved the white flag. We got back to the car completely deflated. We arrived in Cleveland at 3 am”

The next day, after trying and failing to find a flight from Cleveland, they headed back to Columbus. They made it through security this time, but the plane was stuck in ice. They finally departed for Houston at 11:22 pm.

The effort, she says, was worth it. “The last few years have reinforced the importance of spending time with the people we love,” she wrote. “I got to the family reunion and spent three nights with my favorite people. Forgot about all the flight delays/issues once we arrived.”

See more information:

Reflections on the Southwest Airlines Disaster and What Happens Next