Weary travelers still dealing with canceled flights, missing luggage Tuesday

As of 1:20 p.m. Tuesday, 251 flights had been canceled at Midway, 77 at O’Hare.

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Caroline Kiefer, 33, flew to Chicago from Austin, Texas, on Christmas Day. It took her until Tuesday to get her luggage — and her vintage roller skates.

Caroline Kiefer, 33, flew to Chicago from Austin, Texas, on Christmas Day. It took her until Tuesday to get her luggage — and her vintage roller skates.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The baggage claim area at Midway Airport on Tuesday resembled the final scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in which the crated ark is wheeled into a cavernous warehouse full of thousands of identical crates, presumably to be lost forever.

Or, as Caroline Kiefer, put it, the hundreds upon hundreds of ownerless bags looked like a “bag farm.”

Kiefer was one of the dozens of people lined up outside the Southwest Airlines baggage services office Tuesday, all hoping to retrieve lost bags.

“I packed my vintage roller skates to go to my favorite roller rink in my hometown, which I’ve done all my life,” said Kiefer, 33, who lives in Texas but flew in for the holidays to visit family in Winnebago, a town just west of Rockford. “I would be heartbroken if I lost those.”

The situation at Midway, though, was markedly better than it was Monday, when families spent hours in check-in lines in a post-Christmas travel mess that saw thousands of Southwest flights canceled and delayed nationwide. The check-in lines looked like those that you might see at any other time of the year Tuesday morning.

Southwest Airlines staff assists passengers looking for their luggage as an inflatable Grinch is displayed on the desk at Midway Airport, Tuesday, December 27, 2022, after Southwest Airlines flights were cancelled and delayed during winter storm Elliott. Passengers from flights across the U.S. looked for and waited for their lost luggage Tuesday morning.

An inflatable Grinch sits on a desk inside the Southwest Airlines baggage services office at Midway Airport Tuesday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

As of about 1:20 p.m., flight delays at Midway were averaging about 21 minutes, while delays at O’Hare were running about 15 minutes. A total of 251 flights had been canceled at Midway, and 77 flights were canceled at O’Hare, according to the website flychicago.com.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Transportation says it will look into Southwest’s flight cancellations. Many airlines were forced to cancel flights due to the weather, but Southwest was by far the most affected. Of the 2,950 flight cancellations in the U.S. midday Tuesday, 2,549 were called off by Southwest, according to the tracking website FlightAware.

A Southwest spokesman said cancellations snowballed as the storm moved across the country, leaving flight crews and planes out of place.

“So we’ve been chasing our tails, trying to catch up and get back to normal safely, which is our No. 1 priority, as quickly as we could,” Southwest spokesman Jay McVay said at a news conference in Houston. “And that’s exactly how we ended up where we are today.”

Southwest Airlines canceled more than 70% of its flights Monday, more than 60% on Tuesday, and warned that it would operate just over a third of its usual schedule in the days ahead to allow crews to get back to where they need to be. American, United, Delta and JetBlue had cancellation rates between zero and 2% by Tuesday.

The disparity has triggered a closer look at Southwest operations by the U.S. Transportation Department, which called the rate of cancellations “disproportionate and unacceptable,” and sought to ensure that the Dallas carrier was sticking to its obligations to stranded customers.

Steve Brauneis, 54, planned to fly Southwest to Chicago from Denver for Christmas to be with his 92-year-old father and other family members in Oak Park. Brauneis uses a wheelchair since a snowboarding accident almost three years ago. The Christmas Day flight was to be his first since the accident, and he was anxious about it. He ended up waiting and waiting until the flight was finally canceled.

“Two and a half hours in an airplane seat would have been fine compared to waiting in the airport 10 1/2,” said Brauneis, still in Colorado.

The trip was canceled because the next available flight wasn’t until Wednesday, he said.

Gilda Norris, who owns GILDA Designer Thrift Boutique in Hyde Park, missed her Christmas Day trip to New York to see family because of the storm but was at Midway Tuesday because she wasn’t sure if her luggage was still in Chicago or in New York.

“I’m hoping they made a mistake like they did with everything else and my bag is here,” said Norris, making her third trip to the airport in three days. “I came yesterday. The line was out through the garage. I waited for a few hours and gave up.”

She was only waiting for one bag. “But it’s a special bag. I am a fashionista. It has good stuff in there!”

The wait went on for Norris. A Southwest employee told her the airline probably wouldn’t be able to find her bag until Friday.

Airport staff and a person looking for luggage walks around a pile of suitcases near the baggage carousel at Midway Airport on Tuesday.

Airport staff and a person looking for luggage walk around a pile of suitcases near the baggage carousel at Midway Airport Tuesday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Bryan Blanks, 48, of Hyde Park, lost his luggage — at least temporarily — but he might have found love. Blanks was supposed to fly to North Carolina Dec. 23 to see his 96-year-old grandmother. The flight was canceled, and he was left searching for his luggage. So was Malissie Pope, 51, who was trying to make her way back home to North Carolina from Chicago.

The two ended up chatting in line, comparing their tales of misfortune, and then had dinner together near the airport Sunday. On Tuesday, Blanks picked up Pope from her hotel so that they could each search for their lost luggage.

“It was nice,” Pope said of their dinner together.

“It was good conversation,” Blanks said coyly.

About an hour after her arrival at Midway, employees had found Kiefer’s black-and-white polka dot suitcases. She unzipped the big one, pulling out a white leather Riedell skate with pink-turquoise-and-purple rubber wheels.

“These are really special to me,” Kiefer said, before zipping up her suitcase and rolling her bags out of the airport.

Contributing: AP

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