Southwest passengers still waiting on bags should receive them in ‘days (not weeks),’ airline says

Jan 5, 2023, 4:10 PM
Hundreds of unclaimed suitcases sit near the Southwest Airlines baggage claim area at Nashville Int...
Hundreds of unclaimed suitcases sit near the Southwest Airlines baggage claim area at Nashville International Airport after the airline cancelled thousands of flights in Nashville, Tennessee, on December 27, 2022. - Temperatures were expected to moderate across the eastern and midwest US on December 27, after days of freezing weather from "the blizzard of the century" left at least 49 dead and caused Christmas travel chaos. (Photo by Seth Herald / AFP) (Photo by SETH HERALD/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by SETH HERALD/AFP via Getty Images)

“This has been the worst Christmas ever, ever, ever I’ve gone through,” she told CNN recently while preparing to fly back home.

Jenkins is among the masses of passengers whose holidays Southwest disrupted when it canceled 15,700 flights over eight days starting on December 22 and allowed checked baggage to pile up nationwide.

The airline has not said how many bags remain orphaned but told CNN late Wednesday that the “majority of bags have already been processed for delivery or picked up by Customers from airport locations.”

“Our estimation for delivery of remaining bags is days (not weeks),” the company said in an emailed statement.

Southwest has apologized and offered inconvenienced travelers about $300 worth of frequent flyer credit as a “gesture of goodwill” and told them via email that it is handling luggage with “great urgency,” as it uses FedEx and even other airlines to return bags.

The effort — and warehousing of bags while manually sorting — means the piles in airports have disappeared or dwindled, making it hard for outsiders to assess how much work lies ahead at Southwest.

But industry expert Ross Feinstein called the luggage backlog Southwest faced this week — while trying to simultaneously operate its normal schedule of around 4,000 daily flights — “severe.”

The airline has limited space in the bellies of its own 737 jets, he noted. It recruited employees who normally do other jobs to handle baggage and operate call centers that field customers’ questions and contact them to figure out where a bag should be sent.

“A week and a half, two weeks is just unacceptable and customers are just frustrated trying to track down their bags,” said Feinstein, who has previously worked for American Airlines and the Transportation Security Administration.

Unlike other airlines that charge fees for most checked bags, Southwest offers every passenger two bags for free. That feature, combined with its status as boarding more domestic passengers annually than any other airline, means Southwest carries the most bags of any US carrier.

The checked bags added up to nearly 100 million in 2021 — the most recent full-year data — while Southwest mishanded bags less frequently that year than Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines, according to government data.

But Southwest does not offer baggage tracking features that the other three major US carriers do on their apps. Southwest only began tallying up the number of bags on each flight by scanning them into a computer a few years ago. Prior to that, handlers tallied bags on paper, according to a government report and employee accounts.

That has some travelers taking the tracking into their own hands — using devices like Apple’s AirTags. The AirTags can offer a fairly precise location when there are other Apple products nearby, such as an iPhone in the pocket of a baggage handler.

Feinstein said an AirTag reunited him with his oversized ski bag once. When the bag did not appear with others from the flight, his phone showed it sitting planeside — enough information to prove to airline employees they had missed it.

This week a United Airlines customer with a lost bag also used an AirTag to track her luggage, which made curious trips to local shopping areas and a McDonald’s before she was reunited with it.

Jenkins’ daughter, Toya Martin, said she would start using trackers in her luggage while still waiting for the missing bag.

Martin said Thursday she and her mother made multiple unsuccessful trips to the airport after Southwest called to say the bags — including one with the medical supplies — were ready for pickup.

Martin said this experience soured her opinion of Southwest.

“It’s like being lost — like you’re in the middle of a ocean with no, no way to get back and they’re just looking at you saying we don’t know what to tell you,” Martin told CNN.

“I don’t think I will ever use Southwest” again, she said. “I love Southwest but this has been a nightmare.”

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

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Southwest passengers still waiting on bags should receive them in ‘days (not weeks),’ airline says