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By The Way
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The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Chaotic holiday travel weekend leaves mountains of lost luggage in airports

A traveler searches through piles of luggage at Chicago Midway International Airport's baggage claim Monday. (Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times/AP)
3 min

First, during one of the busiest holiday travel seasons in more than two decades, severe weather affected the flights. Then it hit the luggage.

As passengers across the United States faced widespread cancellations and delays because of the massive winter storm that slammed significant swaths of the country over the holiday weekend, frequent flight-itinerary changes led to suitcases and luggage piling up in airports.

According to data from flight-tracking website FlightAware, almost 8,700 U.S. flights were delayed Monday, while 4,000 were canceled, as the storm battered much of the country. Dozens of people have been killed in the storm that brought dangerous conditions of heavy snow, ice and severe cold.

Travelers on Southwest Airlines bore the brunt of the post-Christmas cancellations, with the company saying Monday that it would continue to cut around two-thirds of its flights “for the next several days” as it tried to ensure a return to normal scheduling.

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Winter storm and blizzard aftermath


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The impact is still being felt days after the company first warned of weather-related disruption on Wednesday, with more than 2,900 flights (or 71 percent of those scheduled) scrapped on Monday alone, according to FlightAware.

Passengers took to social media to detail their travel nightmares and beg the airlines for help.

One person attempting to contact Southwest on Twitter wrote that in addition to a canceled flight and missing Christmas, “now my bag is [nowhere] to be found. … all the christmas gifts are in there.”

The airline lost your luggage. Now what?

Many recounted spending hours on hold trying to speak with airline employees and locate their luggage.

“With consecutive days of extreme winter weather across our network behind us, continuing challenges are impacting our Customers and Employees in a significant way that is unacceptable,” Southwest said in a statement. “And our heartfelt apologies for this are just beginning.”

The U.S. Transportation Department admonished 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.”

Winter storms wreak havoc on flights. Here’s why.

The travel disruption has also been felt outside of the country, albeit on a much smaller scale: More than half of Air Canada’s flights were delayed Monday, while 5 percent were canceled, according to FlightAware.

In Britain, members of the armed forces were called to work at airports as officers who check passports went on strike for eight days over the holiday period, while travelers have also faced train cancellations during worker walkouts in recent days.

We asked: Will an AirTag save my lost luggage?

Over the summer, passengers in Britain were left stranded and luggage went missing as the aviation industry struggled to cope with a surge in passenger demand, amid difficulties recruiting and training enough workers following two years of the pandemic.

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How to navigate travel problems
Your flight is delayed or canceled
For flights arriving or departing from the U.S., you are entitled to a refund if your flight is canceled or significantly delayed. If you need to rebook, your airline’s app can be a helpful tool. Generally, you have more options if you booked directly with the airline.
You’re bumped from a flight
Airlines are allowed to overbook. But you’re entitled to compensation if you’re denied boarding because of overbooking and didn’t volunteer to give up your seat and the airline can’t get you to your destination within an hour of the flight’s initial arrival time. Here are the rules of bumping.
The airline lost your luggage
With most airlines, you qualify for compensation after your bags are lost for more than 24 hours, though there can be a lot of red tape to get reimbursed. Here’s what to know about filing a claim, keeping receipts and tracking your bag until you get it back.
You want a refund or compensation
If your flight is canceled or delayed, you can choose a refund instead of a new flight. U.S. law doesn’t require airlines to provide hotels, meal vouchers or other services but asking in person is the best way to get them. Here’s how to find out what you are entitled to.
More travel tips
Find more advice on what to do if you experience other common airport problems.


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