Travelers impacted by airline cancellations ditch flights, rent cars to drive home

Dec 27, 2022, 6:41 PM | Updated: 6:44 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — During the holiday week, more cars are hitting the road, and fewer flights are taking off as travelers choose to take a road trip to their final destination.

Salt Lake International’s rental car lot was full of people loading up their bags and preparing for a trip across the country Tuesday.

“This is by far the cheaper option, my sanity not so much, but we’ll make do,” said traveler Chantelle May, who had to drive to San Antonio, Texas, from Utah after her Southwest Airlines flight was canceled last minute.

Southwest Airlines warned customers that flights would continue to be canceled while they work to get operations back to normal.

“We looked on all the other airlines, and they’re expensive to try to get out of here,” May said.

Travelers said prices are high and the selection is low.

“It’s on me to pay for the hotel, which is running $200 a day, and I just rented a car, and boy, do they get you on a one-way rental,” said Mike Vail, who rented a car to drive home to Missoula, Montana. “I’m now paying $700 for a one-way trip to drive eight hours for 500 miles, and I was one of the lucky ones.”

He said he was told the soonest flight out would be at the end of the week, and all other available flights were full or canceled. He had no other choice but to fly.

“I’d be stuck here for the next five days, and they’re only going to take care of me financially for my first night here,” Vail said.

The Summit Academy High School Boys Basketball Team planned to fly out of Salt Lake Airport early Monday morning to make a connection in Phoenix, then fly into Los Angeles for a tournament that night.

“We were on a 5 a.m. flight. The team was going to meet at 3 a.m. at the airport,” head coach Curtis Condie explained. “We picked the 5 a.m. flight because it’s the first flight out, and the plane would be there.”

When they got there, they learned their flight was canceled. Condie said Southwest Airlines employees told them they wouldn’t be able to fly out until Dec. 29.

“I was amazed at their arrogance. It was like, ‘Nope, can’t do it,'” he said.

The team decided to rent two vans and drive to California.

“This was a big deal because we’ve got two young men getting recruited from schools down this way,” Condie said.

Fortunately, the team made it in time and won its first game of the week.

“Our guys were very resilient, you know, nine and a half hours in the car, and we were fortunate enough to win 80 to 39,” Condie said.

He said the drive comes at a cost, but the airline did reimburse them for their plane tickets.

“These two vans are costing more than the airfare,” Condie said.

He said, despite the inconvenience, it’s a memory his players won’t forget.

“This is going to be a memory for the rest of their life, that we took a negative and made it positive,” he said.

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Travelers impacted by airline cancellations ditch flights, rent cars to drive home