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‘So I guess Southwest has invented time travel’: Airline sends passengers bizarre flight changes

‘So I guess Southwest has invented time travel’: Airline sends passengers bizarre flight changes
Dawn Gilbertson, USA TODAY
Published 6:00 a.m. ET Aug. 12, 2020

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“We’ve made a change to your upcoming trip.”

Joanie Tran knows airline emails with that subject line are rarely good news, especially during a pandemic when airlines are cutting flights.

But the flight changes Southwest Airlines sent the 28-year-old human resources manager and her family and friends Tuesday for a September vacation in Lake Tahoe are a doozy.

Tran’s nonstop flight from San Diego to Reno, Nevada, turned into a connecting flight via Oakland, California. That’s not a dealbreaker, but this is: the connecting flight Southwest booked her on leaves 10 minutes before the first flight lands.

Her sister’s new itinerary doesn’t even make sense. She was on the same nonstop San Diego-Reno flight as the entire group of 15, but the new reservation shows her departing trip beginning in Oakland, stopping in Las Vegas and arriving in Reno. It also lists, for the same day but under “returning flight,” a San Diego-Oakland flight at a time when she is due to be in the air from Oakland to Las Vegas.

“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “They have it all mixed up.”

Karen Doltz can relate. She received a similar email from Southwest Tuesday. Her September flight from Philadelphia to San Diego is only departing an hour earlier than she’d booked, but the new connecting flight in Chicago takes off an hour before she is scheduled to land there.

“So I guess Southwest has invented time travel?” Doltz joked in a post on Southwest’s Facebook page.

Southwest downplayed the nonsensical flight changes, saying passengers are receiving preliminary flight change information that has not been finalized. Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins said the affected travelers’ itineraries are still under review because the airline prioritizes near-term travel, defined as in the next two weeks.

Due to weaker than expected travel demand as COVID-19 cases spiked, the airline recently scrubbed a significant number of flights scheduled between Sept. 6 and Oct. 7.  Hawkins said the airline “successfully changed” 95% of those reservations, leaving 5% percent awaiting final changes.

“The (reservations) system sometimes suggests multiple options as it works to build the (new) journey. The examples you’ve shared require attention from our representatives to select the best options, and that’s a decision we prefer to make in consultation with our customers,” Hawkins said via e-mail.

The airline says travelers seeing new flights in their reservation have a seat on those flights pending further changes by an airline representative after reviewing rebooking options with passengers. The airline reaches out to those who don’t contact it first.

“These scenarios aren’t new and always have happened. This year, the sheer volume of changes created by monthly revisions upon revisions of our flight schedule has our people working around the clock to serve these customers ahead of their departure date. We’re grateful for their patience as we work through the queue and always invite customers to reach to us for help.”

He said passengers concerned about the flight changes should call the airline (800-435-9792) for more information.

Doltz, who works in information technology, suspects a computer glitch is to blame.

“This should have been literally impossible for this to happen,” she said. 

She said she’s received plenty of flight-change emails from Southwest, but “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

She called Southwest but hung up after 28 minutes on hold. (The airline has a call-back option.) Doltz isn’t in a hurry as she plans to cancel the flight because the wedding she was planning to attend was canceled. 

Tran said she and her family, who are celebrating multiple birthdays in Tahoe, are scrambling to rebook. Southwest canceled the nonstop flight and can’t rebook them together on a new flight, an airline representative told her via a direct message on Twitter.

“Now we’re trying to work around their schedule instead of them working around ours,” she said.

They likely will end up taking the refund Southwest offered and booking on another airline, she said.

 “I told Southwest, ‘This has never happened to me before. That’s why I’m shocked.’ ”

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