Breaking News
More () »

'The meltdown of all meltdowns': Will 2022 holiday travel woes continue to 2023?

Winter weather affected thousands of flights over the Christmas holiday, with Southwest Airlines hit the hardest. An expert weighs in on 2023 travel.

The 2022 holiday travel season proved to be a headache for so many passengers after bad winter weather. 

The problems hit Southwest Airlines the hardest, leading to thousands of canceled flights and leaving people – and their bags – stranded. It's the latest in a series of issues the airline industry has combatted coming back from the height of the pandemic. 

'The meltdown of all meltdowns'

Massive lines, cancellations and piles of bags without their owners were the scenes over the Christmas holiday in airports across the country.

Leslie Voorhees Means and her family were among those with canceled flights from Southwest Airlines. 

"I guess when you're traveling over the holidays, you have to expect that things are gonna go wrong. But it was quite the ordeal getting back home," Voorhees Means said. 

RELATED: Passengers frustrated as Southwest flight cancellations snowball

While the family tried to rent a car in San Francisco to get back to the Valley after Christmas, Voorhees means said there weren't any available. So they borrowed a family member's car and drove for more than 16 hours with their 11-month-old boy. 

"This was like the first blunder that we've really experienced with Southwest, but not enough to turn us away," Voorhees Means said. "We're still like loyal customers." 

Voorhees Means said the flights that were canceled were fully refunded, and her family will likely be seeking reimbursement for the gas they spent to get back to the Valley. 

RELATED: 'Several guardian angels' help Peoria family get from Ohio to Arizona after Southwest flight was canceled

Blaise Waguespack, a long-time professor with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Daytona Beach, said he hasn't seen anything like what happened with Southwest Airlines over the Christmas holiday before. 

"The meltdown of all meltdowns," Waguespack said. 

Decades-old crew system 

While Southwest Airlines has put money toward technology for customers, like its app and social media presence, Waguespack said the airline has kept a decades-old system in place for its crew. 

"The whole crew scheduling system, which still relied on telephone calls into corporate headquarters, just was not ready and could not handle the event that occurred," Waguespack said. "So they just didn't know where planes and people were."

That system matters, it's what keeps pilots and flight attendants helping get flights into the air after disruptions. 

"It's really getting the crews and the pilots back in place. That is always the hardest part of any irregular operations," Waguespack said. 

RELATED: Southwest Airlines facing massive scrutiny 

2023 travel

Coming back from the height of the pandemic, airlines have had staffing, air traffic control and other issues to combat. Not to mention weather that causes delays and cancelations on its own. 

Waguespack expects though that the problems at the end of the 2022 travel season won't be the trend for 2023. 

"Domestically, we still haven't added back all the capacity before COVID. So some of the airlines are still being very cautious about what the amount of flying they're doing," Waguespack said. 

As for the system issues that affected Southwest, Waguespack expects the airline, and other airlines are working to make sure their systems can handle the disruptions. 

"I'm sure every airline is making sure and double checking systems to make sure we don't get caught that way," Waguespack said. 

RELATED: Southwest Airlines back to full schedule, travel at Sky Harbor normalizes

Still, he recommends that passengers know how to best contact their airline, like through social media or other means, and check with services like FlightAware to keep tabs on potential incoming issues. 

Voorhees Means is already planning out her travel for 2023, and thinking of backups too. 

"If this were to happen again, what would we do differently? Maybe try and get to the rental car center a little bit earlier," Voorhees Means said. "I think attitude-wise, it's not going to change anything."

Up to Speed

Catch up on the latest news and stories on the 12News YouTube channel. Subscribe today.

Before You Leave, Check This Out