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Canceled flights, lost luggage add to Southwest Airlines fiasco -- experts say you should know your rights

With cancellations and other havoc, one family blame Southwest Airlines for ruining Christmas
With cancellations and other havoc, one family blame Southwest Airlines for ruining Christmas 03:59

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A combination of the punishing winter storm that struck much of the country over the holiday, bad luck, and poor planning are behind a massive Southwest Airlines meltdown – with thousands of canceled flights and even more lost luggage.

Days after Christmas, the crisis continues as the federal government begins to investigate what happened with Southwest. Meanwhile, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker is also reaching out in an effort to get answers.

Southwest canceled thousands more flights nationwide on Wednesday, accounting for nearly 90% of all canceled flights in the U.S., according to the flight tracking website Flight Aware. More than 2,500 Southwest flights were canceled as of 10:45 a.m. Central time, including more than 230 at Midway International Airport (or 54% of that airport's flights) and 43 more at O'Hare International Airport (or 74% of that airport's flights).

On Wednesday, Southwest launched a self-service tool to help travelers who have had their flights canceled or significantly delayed. The tool allows them to request a refund; reimbursement for expenses such as hotel rooms, other airline tickets, rental cars, or food; or help rebooking a flight.

As CBS 2's Marissa Perlman reported Tuesday night, the sea of luggage at Midway International Airport is not going anywhere anytime soon. 

Workers at baggage claim said Wednesday morning it's unclear how long it will take for everyone to be able to come out and retrieve their bags. 

Midway is primarily served by Southwest Airlines – and the airline warned Tuesday night that it would continue canceling flights until it gets its operations back on track.

THE SOUTHWEST MESS: CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg's analysis

Earlier Tuesday, Gov. JB Pritzker issued a statement saying he has talked with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg – whose department is working to "hold Southwest accountable for this debacle and restore the flow of travel."

Pritzker is calling for the airline to assist those stranded at Midway immediately, and for those travelers to be compensated for the time and money they lost.

For one Bridgeport family, those losses run deep. They blame Southwest Airlines for ruining their Christmas.

"I'm not giving up on Christmas with my child," said Jessica Manion.

At the Manions' Bridgeport home, the Christmas tree will stay up until there are presents under it.

Jessica Manion posted a viral video on TikTok Sunday after her flight to Pittsburgh was canceled. She was told that even though she would not be going to Pittsburgh, her bags that contained her Christmas presents for her son, Hank, would.

"They said, 'Your bags have to go to Pittsburgh because that's their final destination," Manion said. "I said, 'Well, I'm not going to Pittsburgh."

On her fourth trip back to Midway to beg for her property, Manion learned her luggage ended up in Denver. She said she was not told why.

And now she and Hank are at home, and Hank's presents are not.

Mess continues for Southwest Airlines with more canceled flights 02:22

Wednesday morning, travelers who have managed to find a flight to their destination were breathing a sigh of relief. Stephanie Norris said her flight was canceled on Monday.

"It was a hassle, but I'm just glad I was able to get a flight today, because I looked online, and all the flights were booked until Saturday. So after I booked my flight, I saw I was lucky to get one today," she said. "I fly Southwest all the time, and I've never had a problem like this, and so I'm hoping it's just something that's temporary."

With so many issues, experts say it is important to know your rights as a traveler. According to the Department of Transportation:

  • Airlines will be rebook you on the next flight as long as there are seats.
  • You are entitled to a full refund, even with a non-refundable ticket.
  • You are also entitled to a refund of any bag fees or "extras."
  • The U.S. Department of Education says airlines are required to rebook you on a partner airline – though Southwest does not have one.
  • Airlines are liable for damages for delayed, lost, or damaged checked baggage.

At Midway Tuesday night, the frustration from travelers continues.

"The wait time for anything is more than two hours," said Dawn Welch of Oakland, California.

Dawn Welch is trying to get home, but is quickly losing hope.

"Every six minutes, it's been delayed. From 6:05, we're up to 8:36 right now; or 8:42, I think, actually – I don't know," Welch said. "It's hard to know."

For the Manions, they are still holding out hope they'll celebrate Christmas as planned.

"The tree stays up until the gifts come," said Jessica Manion.

Travelers remain stranded as flight cancelations, issues with Southwest Airlines continue 02:43

Days after the delays, we are also hearing from Southwest Airlines Chief Executive Officer Bob Jordan. He apologized to customers and called the chaos a "giant puzzle" that could take days to solve.

"After days of trying to operate as much of our full schedule across the busy holiday weekend, we reached a decision point to significantly reduce our flying to catch up," Jordan said. "We're focused on safely getting all of the pieces back into position to end this rolling struggle."

Jordan also said the airline is in the process of reaching out individually to stranded passengers to process refunds and help with hotel stays.

Jordan said he has also been in talks with Buttigieg, who promised to hold Southwest accountable.

"We also clearly see a system issue there that is their responsibility as an airline to manage, and that we're going to be looking into to ensure that every federal standard is met," Buttigieg said.

The secretary urged passengers to file a complaint on the Department of Transportation's Aviation Consumer Protection website.

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