Thousands of cruise ship passengers have not been able to fly to their cruise embarkation port or arrived too late in the wake of the issues Southwest Airlines caused in the United States this week.
Cruise passengers booked with Southwest Airlines this week will have to wait a few more days for relief as the airline continues to struggle with what US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called a total system breakdown.
Southwest Airlines Causes Chaos for Cruise Passengers
Southwest Airlines cancelled 15,700 flights since winter weather began disrupting air travel on December 22 across the US. The issues with one of the largest airlines in the country mean that hundreds of cruise passengers have missed their intended departure onboard a cruise ship.
Others have had to drive hundreds or thousands of miles by car or were lucky enough that a cruise ship delayed departure. Others have struggled to find their way home after disembarking from a ship.
One person who disembarked a cruise ship in Fort Lauderdale traveled for five days to make it home to Kansas, according to CNN: “We were fortunate because we were in Fort Lauderdale. My family lives in the Tampa bay area, so we were able to rent a car to go see my family for Christmas. We’ve seen a lot of families who are sleeping on the floor, and it just breaks my heart.”
Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan released a video message on Wednesday, reassuring customers that they were doing everything possible to get back on track. However, Jordan confirmed that the flight operated would be operating a rescued schedule so that it could reposition crew and planes so that full operations could return next week.
Angry cruise passengers have been venting on social media, not just toward the airline but to cruise lines too. Many cruisers had been waiting for so long to take a cruise vacation following the global pandemic and the cruise industry shutdown. Only recently have cruise lines really been fully back sailing, and it’s the first holiday season where the entire fleets are back sailing.
Two teachers from Wisconsin were due to sail on their Honeymoon cruise. However, they were told their flight had been cancelled, and their luggage was stuck outside in the snow.
The couple managed to make it back home by flying on a different airline while having to forfeit their cruise and having no clue what happened to their luggage.
Complete Breakdown and Lack of Customer Service
These are just some of the hundreds of reports that can be found online. The impact of the issues at Southwest Airlines goes, of course, much further. Hundreds of thousands of people are affected, airports are overloaded with travelers that have no idea what their options are, and all the while, customer support at Southwest is severely lacking.
Cruise lines have been filling the void wherever possible. Carnival Celebration‘s departure was delayed until 5 PM to give some guests a chance to reach the ship. However, a reported 500 guests did not make it to the vessel in time.
Most cruises that sailed in the last couple of days and those sailing in the days leading to the new year have been and will be affected to some degree.
US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has called the situation unacceptable, while the department of transport has sent out a tweet, saying: “USDOT is concerned by Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays & reports of lack of prompt customer service. The Department will examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan.”
Unfortunately, those booked on a Southwest Airlines flight in the coming days will find no comfort in those words. The airline has said it will need at least several days to come to grips with the flight cancellations and arrange crew so that flights can fly on time. In the meantime, Southwest will fly only 30% of their scheduled departures.
For those scheduled to sail in the coming days, it means finding an alternative way of making their way to the various homeports around the United States. In one of the busiest times of the year for cruises, Southwest Airlines could not have chosen a worse time for this breakdown.
The question is whether cruise lines can offer some flexibility for affected guests to rebook their cruises. This would be a viable option for those who booked their flights through the cruise lines. Those that booked independently will likely need to address their travel insurance.