Updated 01/03/14 – 1:54 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Southwest Airlines cancelled more than 130 flights at Midway International Airport — including every flight through noon — as it tries to recover from a travel nightmare that left hundreds of passengers sitting on planes stuck on the tarmac for as long as four hours overnight.
CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports at least 10 Southwest flights at Midway were forced to wait on the tarmac after landing late Thursday night, because other departing flights were unable to take off, and were still sitting at their gates, leaving arriving flights with nowhere to go.
The flights that were stuck at the gates could not leave, because of icing problems, and due to inclement weather on the East Coast. That created a backlog that forced arriving flights to wait on the tarmac after landing.
Planes stuck on the tarmac were delayed between one and four hours as they waited for gates to open up. Some of those planes already had been late getting to Chicago, because of winter storms in the Midwest and other weather-related issues.
Southwest spokesman Dan Landon said the last plane was moved to a gate by 3:30 a.m. Snacks and drinks were provided to passengers while they waited.
To catch up from Thursday night’s backlog, Southwest cancelled all its flights at Midway through noon Friday. The airline operates more than 220 flights daily at Midway, and resumed limited operations at midday, after cancelling more than 130 flights.
With hundreds of passengers from those stranded flights crowding ticket counters with the hundreds more passengers whose flights were cancelled, the wait at lines at the Southwest counter were up to three hours Friday morning.
For passengers who’d already spent hours sitting on a plane, then sleeping on cots or the floor at Midway, it was just one more burden to endure while figuring out what to do next.
Some passengers said they got water whenever they wanted it while waiting on their planes, but the only food they could get was peanuts, and planes became hot and uncomfortable while just sitting on the tarmac.
Once passengers got off their planes, many had missed connecting flights, and many were unable to find their luggage, as bags piled up mostly unattended at baggage claim. Southwest kiosks also were inoperable, forcing every passenger who needed to find another flight to wait in extremely long lines at the ticket counter.
Some passengers stuck in Chicago were told it would be Tuesday before a flight is available to get to their destination – or go back to where they started – so they’re looking for other options.
Joe and Shelby Milinovich waited in line for 2 ½ hours before talking to a ticket agent, even though she arrived at the airport at 5 a.m., leaving them “a little” frustrated.
“I’m sure most of these people are very frustrated, too,” Joe said.
They’ve never waited that long just to get to the ticket counter before, and Shelby said it was her first time missing a flight.
Many passengers said they should be compensated one way or another.
“Oh goodness; a refund, or at least some sort of voucher, or something,” one man said. “Honestly, I want to be mad about it, but I’m so tired that I can’t be. I just can’t be mad about it. It is what it is.”
“What do we do to get a refund? This isn’t right,” said another passenger, who also said Southwest should reimburse passengers for hotel rooms they were unable to use because they were stuck in Chicago.
Landon said Southwest apologizes to its customers for the inconveniences.
“We are working to move forward and we’re glad everyone is on the ground safely,” Landon said.