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Flight cancellations leave passengers stranded at Midway on Christmas Eve

Nearly 200 flights canceled at Midway International Airport on Christmas Eve.
Nearly 200 flights canceled at Midway International Airport on Christmas Eve 04:04

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Cancellations lit up the flight dashboards at Midway International Airport this Christmas Eve, and some passengers were left stranded.

As CBS 2's Andrew Ramos reported Sunday night, it was a case of the ghosts of Christmas past returning to haunt Southwest. Indeed, some passengers were also left feeling déjà vu, after Southwest Airlines' flight meltdown almost exactly one year ago.

The total number of flight cancellations at Midway as of late Sunday night was 198. At O'Hare International Airport, there were 24 cancellations.

While Southwest pinned the blame on weather, we heard from some that a staffing shortage was also a major factor.

"We were just canceled," said traveler Omaima Doghmi. "We found out as we were about to enter security."

"I am just a middle school teacher wanting to go on vacation, and I don't get to do that now," said Anna Carson.

"And I have a young kid who is getting impatient, and so he's not happy!" another traveler said at Midway.

It was safe to say Sunday night that the mood was far from festive inside the Southwest terminal at Midway Airport on this Christmas Eve.

Thousands of travelers were left in limbo. Some travelers we spoke were holding out hope from the best. Ezra Allswang spoke to us with his young daughter in his arms, said his flight to Miami was canceled Saturday night and delayed for hours Sunday.

"Well, we're here. We were hoping maybe they'd move it up. But we're going to try to just eat some snacks and run around and see what happens."

Jake Melau was traveling to Orlando, Florida, and was hoping to get on a flight Sunday evening after an earlier one was canceled.

"Well, we're going to Disney, so it kind of spoiled our plans for today, but we've still got all of tomorrow and throughout the week," Melau said. "Hopefully, it doesn't get delayed for."

Flight after flight on Southwest was either delayed or canceled – the result of what the airline says was visibility conditions from dense fog that moved into the Chicago area late Saturday.

Dozens of cancellations quickly snowballed into roughly 200 at Midway by Sunday evening - an apparent domino effect that sparked disruptions nationwide bundled with a two-hour ground stop at Midway.

Holiday air travel in Chicago snagged by fog this Christmas Eve 02:37

For travelers like Allswang, it was a repeat of the travel nightmare he and his family experienced last year when a staffing and technology meltdown stranded 2 million Southwest customers.

"Lessons are to be learned for us. Hopefully, Southwest learns a couple of lessons," Allswang said. "But it doesn't make for a great holiday experience."

Last year's systemwide meltdown at Southwest left some travelers and their bags stranded for several days. The airline has since reached a settlement and will pay $140 million as a result.

The situation wasn't any better downstairs at baggage claim, where those travelers with nowhere to go attempted to retrieve their checked bags. The lines were astounding.

"They will not give you your bag unless you wait in that line that goes from here down to here," one passenger said as he pointed to his right, then his left.

As of 10 p.m., some people were waiting for up to three hours trying to get their checked bags back.

In a statement, Southwest said:

"We're working with our Customers whose travel is impacted by fog at Chicago Midway that began Saturday night and prevented inbound aircraft from landing, forcing some diversions and subsequent flight cancelations. With visibility remaining below required operational minimums throughout the night and continuing this morning, we've modified our planned start for today (Sunday) at Chicago Midway. We have all-hands on deck as our Employees are working quickly to take care of our Customers and accommodate them on alternative flights. Chicago Midway is our fourth busiest airport operation, with more than 200 departures a day scheduled over the holiday weekend. As a result of the fog at Midway, we have canceled 58 flights for Sunday (less than 1% of our total flights of 4242 systemwide), which are mostly originating flights from Midway. We continue to experience some delays and diversions as fog remains a factor. We apologize for the inconvenience to our Customers as we work to get them to their destination safely."

Frustrations, however, were boiling over as travelers told us no one was communicating. Andrew Wolverton reported being stuck on the tarmac for three hours after arriving from New York.

"We did not have a terminal to go to, so we sat there," Wolverton said, "and about every half hour, the pilot would come on and say, 'We don't know what's happening.'"

That is a claim we heard on the ground at Midway all day long – with customers telling us they were boarded and ready to go when they were notified that there was no pilot for their flight.

We again reached out to Southwest, specifically asking about staffing concerns. We have yet to hear back.

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