Shock From A Cancelled Flight and What to do Next

Labor day weekend getaway to San Francisco.  Flights booked two months ago on Southwest Airlines, leaving PDX at 5:45am and arriving around 7:45am.  We talked Lisa’s mom to join us – but she booked a separate flight on Alaska Airlines, leaving at 6:40am and arriving around 8:30am.  The plan was to travel together to the airport, get on our flights, then meet up in SFO and travel together to our hotel in San Francisco.

Since our flight was so early, we planned to leave our house at 4:00am to get to the airport, park and check in by 5:45am.  That meant we went to bed earlier than usual, around 9:00pm so that we could get a decent amount of sleep.  All went off without a hitch — up at 3:30am, on the road at 4:00am, parked and shuttle bus to the airport by 4:45am… however, while on the shuttle bus I checked my phone and found out that I received a text message at 11:29pm from Southwest Airlines.  “Your flight has been cancelled.”  That’s pretty much all it said, with the addition that I should call to rebook the flight.

Shock.  Flight cancelled?  What the hell?  Why?  What do I do now?  How can we get to San Francisco?

I called Southwest Airlines and spoke to a representative.  I asked if we could be re-accommodated to the Alaska flight.  Nope.  All she could do was either refund our mileage points or get us on the next Southwest flight to San Francisco.  And what would that be???  Well, there was a flight at 6:00am, stopping in Las Vegas and arriving to SFO at 10:35am.  But that one was already sold out.  There was another flight at 6:25am, stopping in San Diego and arriving in SFO at 11:05am.  That one was also sold out.  Both flights sold out probably because of the 5:45am passengers getting those flights rebooked earlier, but we didn’t read the message until about an hour before take-off so we were pretty much out of luck.  The next non-stop flight was at 12:45pm, arriving at 2:30pm.  Yikes.  There had to be something else we could do, right?

I looked up information on cancelled flights, and found out that the contracts state that the only obligation the airlines have is to (1) refund the cost of the flight or (2) get the passenger on the next available flight on the same airline.  And that’s it.  So there was no way for us to get on the Alaska flight, it had to be on Southwest.  What to do, what to do?

Once we were finally at the airport, we waited in line and made our way to a live Southwest Airlines human.  He couldn’t magically reinstate the 5:45am flight, but he could rebook us on a 6:00am non-stop flight arriving to Oakland by 7:45am.  It wasn’t SFO, but we could make it work.  That sure beat arriving in SFO at 2:30pm, and it beat having to pay a last-minute walk up fare at Alaska Airlines for $199 each person.  We took the flight to Oakland.

The rest of the story went like this:  we made it to Oakland and took the BART to downtown San Francisco.  Lisa’s mom got on her original flight to SFO, and she took the bus to downtown San Francisco.  We met up all around the same time.  So in the end everything worked out.   But I certainly learned from this experience.  I was dismayed to find out that the airline can pretty much cancel a flight for no reason and all I am entitled to is either a refund of my original flight or getting rebooked on the next available flight on the same airline.  It sucks that we never found out why our flight was cancelled, but I have a good idea.  I think that there just weren’t enough passengers on the flight to make it worthwhile for Southwest.  The reason why I think this is because Lisa and I both received very high boarding numbers, even though we did online check-in kinda late.  Usually, right at the 24-hour mark, you check in and if you are just even a minute slow, you’ll end up with a boarding priority number of B-1 through B-60 because so many people are checking in at the same time, trying to get those high numbers.  Well, Lisa checked in right at 5:45am and she got A23.  I checked in at 5:47am and got A24.  When we originally received those numbers, we were thrilled.  But now looking back at that, I think it just proved that there were not a lot of people on the flight at Southwest figured they could save money and just get us on different planes.  I have no concrete proof of this, it is speculation, but it seems likely.  But I will never know.  That’s the other thing I learned — if my flight is cancelled, I’ll never know the reason why.  It is just cancelled so there, so be it.  So be it.


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