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Another day of flight woes, unclaimed baggage at Midway Airport and beyond

Frustration persists at Midway Airport, U.S. government wants answer from Southwest Airlines
Frustration persists at Midway Airport, U.S. government wants answer from Southwest Airlines 03:00

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The word "midway" may evoke thoughts of the joy of a carnival, but joy and amusement were scarce at Midway International Airport on Tuesday.

Indeed, it was much the opposite – a nightmare that just won't end for thousands of holiday travelers, not just at Midway, but all over the country.

Tuesday brought another round of cancellations as the airlines played catch-up from fierce winter weather.

The federal government is now looking into the handling of the situation specifically by Southwest Airlines – which has seen the most cancellations – but that is not much comfort to people who are still stuck. Southwest Airlines canceled 64 precent of all its flights Tuesday. On Monday, it was nearly 75 percent.

As CBS 2's Noel Brennan reported, there was at least some organization to the chaos at Midway Tuesday. The area in baggage claim with a sea of unclaimed bags was cordoned off – and people were asked to check in before they were allowed to go searching.

More flight cancellations, unclaimed baggage at Midway 02:15

The bags made it to Midway before their owners, in many cases. There were still hundreds of them piled together in baggage claim.

We met Braden Israelsen as he was searching for his luggage. He and his wife started their journey in Hawaii on Christmas Day Sunday – but they didn't get in until Tuesday.

Fortunately, the shortest leg of their trip was the search for their bags.

"We were supposed to just have like an hour layover that ended up turning into like two and a half days," Israelsen said.

It took just about 10 minutes – which was nothing compared to the delays they had experienced already.

"We were supposed to be flying Christmas Day from Honolulu. We left at like 9 a.m. We flew into Vegas," Israelsen said. "They were supposed to just have like an hour layover that ended up turning into like two and a half days."

Southwest Airlines mess continues at Midway International Airport 02:07

Meanwhile, a canceled flight at Midway is a huge inconvenience - at the very least – for the average person. But for Michelle Cappel, missing a flight out of Midway meant everything.

Cappel was stuck in Chicago trying to get home to Houston on Tuesday. She told us she has stage 4 colorectal cancer. She had appointments and procedures scheduled at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston starting Wednesday.

Cappel's initial Southwest flight was scheduled for Monday, but it was canceled. So she rebooked for this morning. That flight was also canceled - one of 245 Southwest flights canceled at Midway today.

Cappel doesn't know exactly when or how she'll get back home.

"I was panicked. I'm still a little bit panicked. I'm obviously very unsettled - and it's just been so stressful," she said. "The holidays are stressful times as it is, and to add this on top of everything, I needed to get to these appointments."

Cappel says she hasn't been able to reach anyone from Southwest customer service. Friends have offered to help her pay for a last-minute flight on another airline, but she may not be able to leave until New Year's Day.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is now looking into whether Southwest's cancellations were controllable – and went against the airline's customer service plan.

"By their own CEO's admission, they had a technology issue which prevented them from communicating effectively with their own crews," Greenberg said.

Greenberg said Southwest will have to go above and beyond the usual to make up for the delays.

"Southwest is going to have to do a gesture that's beyond, say, we'll give you 10 percent off your next flight," Greenberg said. "Something tells me they're going to have to give free flights away, to give some vouchers away to allow people to fly the airline without additional expense."

The airline is supposed to offer things like meal vouchers after cancellations, and hotel accommodations for people if they can't rebook on the same day.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker also tweeted a statement Tuesday calling on Southwest Airlines to "take immediate action to assist all those that are stranded and waiting endless hours for their flights."

Pritzker said he has talked to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to express the frustration of the thousands of people who have been stranded.

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