Horror stories, misery at LAX and Burbank airport as Southwest meltdown strands thousands

A passenger stands amid dozens of bags inside an airport terminal.
Southwest Airlines passenger Amanda Gevorgyan looks for her luggage at Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday. Southwest has canceled hundreds of flights across the country.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The massive Southwest Airlines meltdown brought chaos to airports across the country and upended the lives of thousands of passengers.

Many people stranded at California airports now must wait days to get back on a Southwest flight.

Here are some stories from inside Los Angeles International Airport and Hollywood Burbank Airport.

Nothing to do but wait

The Southwest baggage check-in desks are still adorned in tinsel and Christmas ornaments.

Luis and Ruth Hernandez from Torrance sat on the curb outside the Southwest terminal at LAX on Tuesday morning. They were joined by Sissi, their Yorkie, who wore a Christmas sweater.


Airlines cancel more than 2,800 flights Tuesday morning, the majority of them with Southwest. At LAX, cancellations and delays cause misery.

Dec. 27, 2022

The trio were bound for Omaha to visit their daughter and grandchildren, but their connecting flight in Phoenix was canceled.

Rather than be stranded in another state, they decided they would try to reschedule, but the earliest flight they could find was for Sunday.

“When it comes to the weather, there is nothing we can do,” Luis Hernandez said.

The delay throws all their plans into dissarray — vacations have to be rescheduled and grandchildren will be back in school.

“Sissi was also going to see her family too,” Ruth Hernandez said, noting that two other Yorkies were waiting for the trio in Nebraska.

Traffic was brisk entering Hollywood Burbank Airport on Tuesday morning, unlike so many airports gripped in gridlock around the nation, with cars reaching curbside drop-off counters within minutes.

Inside the airport, the lines around the Southwest Airlines terminal were short, seven to 10 fliers deep, and lacked the drama associated with scores of cancellations around the country.

Southwest Airlines canceled more than 2,800 flights Monday, prompting an apology from the carrier’s chief executive.

Dec. 26, 2022

That doesn’t mean there was a lack of frustration. Maria Valenciano Ramos and her husband, Geronima Ramos Jr., reached Southwest Airlines’ front counter at Terminal A searching for answers around 8 a.m.

The Arcadia couple planned to fly to Nashville on Monday morning to visit their 34-year-old daughter, Francesca, who lives in the nearby suburb of Spring Hill. They said their flight was canceled without the courtesy of a text message or email and that they only found out when their daughter called and informed them.

“This is not how you do customer service,” said Valenciano Ramos, an Arcadia resident. “I don’t know why Southwest couldn’t let us know and why we had to find out ourselves.”


Ramos Jr. said he and his wife called customer service on Monday and were “put on hold for three hours” before being rescheduled for a flight that evening that was also canceled.

Frustrated, they drove to the airport on Tuesday in search of options. They were told their first available flight was Sunday on New Year’s morning.

Ramos Jr. said he checked with other airlines but was “shocked” to see similar flights ranging from $1,200 to $1,600 more per ticket than what he paid.

“The other airlines are taking advantage of the opportunity,” Valenciano Ramos said. The couple eventually rebooked for Jan. 1 with no return date set.

Their original flight was supposed to return Jan. 3.

“This has changed our whole schedule, our whole holidays,” Valenciano Ramos said. “It’s sad.”

Elderly people sleeping in wheelchairs

Kate Schelter, 43, was heading to Los Angeles from Oakland for vacation with her 9-year-old and 12-year-old children Monday.

Their Southwest flight out of Oakland, which was supposed to take off at 7:25 a.m., kept getting delayed, and rather than wait it out, Schelter and her kids bailed on the flight around 9 a.m., instead deciding to drive down the 5 Freeway to Los Angeles.

They waited an additional four hours at the Oakland airport to recover their bags, but were unsuccessful.

They drove to Los Angeles and were able to pick up their bags at LAX on Tuesday morning, though their original flight was canceled, Schelter said. Schelter said she will not be flying Southwest again anytime soon.

“There was no organization [in Oakland], just bags everywhere,” she said. “I saw elderly people hunched over and sleeping in their wheelchairs. It was really sad.”

Trying to make the best of a bad situation

Michael Migliorini sat in an uncomfortable position on the floor at the Southwest terminal at LAX. The contractor from Portland, Ore., tried to gather his thoughts after his 5 a.m. flight home was canceled.

Flights with other airlines were too pricey and he couldn’t find any train tickets.

“I couldn’t think of a better place to be stranded,” Migliorini said wryly.

Andy Robinson from Denver waited in line for a hotel voucher. He and his family flew into Los Angeles to watch the Denver Broncos play the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. The Broncos lost 51-14.

“That just added to our misery,” Robinson said.He was able to book a flight home on Thursday, but his schedule keeps getting jostled by cancellations and other delays.

His relative chimed in that they should just rent a car and drive back to Denver.

“Maybe we could do that. I’m trying to look at it positively,” Robinson said. “I’m in California. I’m in flip-flops.”

Next flight available: Saturday

Roger and Jane Truesdale thought they caught their own Christmas miracle when they successfully checked in online for their Tuesday morning flight from Burbank to Denver at 5:15.

Jane Truesdale, 74, paid $60 for early check in and was grateful she and her husband missed the mass Southwest Airlines cancellations nationwide.

Their luck ran out, however, 15 minutes later, when Jane Truesdale received a text alerting her of the couple’s canceled flight.

Not knowing what to do, they shuttled to Burbank hoping to reschedule.

They and hundreds of passengers were informed by Southwest attendants that the earliest a flight could be rescheduled was Saturday.

The option was a non-starter for the couple, who said they hadn’t packed enough medication to last until then.

The couple had arrived in town from Estes Park, Colo., on Christmas Eve to visit their son.

They said renting a car or heading back via bus was not a possibility and that they would search for flights from other airlines.

“It isn’t ideal,” said Roger Truesdale, 77, “but we have to get back home and hopefully we’ll find a good substitute.”