Memories of 2022 echo at Midway Airport as nearly 200 flights are delayed, shaking travelers' nerves

Hundreds of flights were canceled or delayed late Saturday and early Sunday as dense fog blanketed the Chicago area, leaving leisure travelers stranded and fuming with their families.

The fog began affecting Southwest Midway’s flight operations Saturday evening, and delays continued into Sunday morning, the airline said.

As a result, 195 flights were canceled at Midway, 113 of which were scheduled to depart from the airport, with 255 flights delayed. Late Sunday, as the fog cleared, the average delay at Midway Airport was 41 minutes – peaking about two hours earlier in the evening – while delays at O’Hare remained under 15 minutes throughout the night.

“We continue to experience some delays and diversions as fog continues to be a factor,” a spokesman said. “We apologize for any inconvenience caused to our customers as we work to get them safely to their destination.”

Lines for baggage check were long in Midway on Sunday.  As the fog cleared, there were delays of up to two hours after 6 p.m

Lines for baggage check were long in Midway on Sunday. As the fog cleared, there were delays of up to two hours after 6 p.m

Midway is Southwest’s fourth-largest airport operation and has more than 200 departures scheduled per day over the holiday weekend, Southwest said in a statement. The airline also reported delays in Denver.

Sunday’s cancellations come almost exactly a year after a malfunction in the airline’s operating system resulted in thousands of canceled and delayed flights. Southwest reached a $140 million settlement last week over the mishap.

“My administration has imposed a $140 million penalty on Southwest Airlines over the 2022 holiday crisis,” President Joe Biden said in a statement on social media. “Taxpayers have kept airlines afloat during the COVID-19 crisis. You should get a better deal.”

Maurice Ortiz of Chicago said his 6:30 p.m. flight to Fort Meyers, Florida, was delayed past midnight.

Last year, Ortiz was one of thousands affected by flight delays over the holidays. He missed a family dinner after waiting at the airport for several hours and arriving days later on other flights.

“Maybe I won’t fly Southwest anymore,” Ortiz said. “They have always been reliable, but when it comes to the holidays or weather-related events, they fall apart every time.”

Ortiz said the weather wasn’t an excuse because other airlines don’t appear to be having the same problems – and especially for an airline that operates out of Chicago.

“It’s ridiculous that an airline would collapse just because of the weather, a little fog or whatever,” Ortiz said. “We’re in Chicago. … The sky won’t always be blue.”

The Department of Transportation found that during the previous holiday season, the airline failed to “promptly or properly issue refunds to thousands of passengers for flights that the airline canceled or significantly changed.” failed to issue “prompt flight status notifications to over one million passengers” in the event of flight disruptions; and failed to provide “appropriate customer service to hundreds of thousands of consumers during widespread flight irregularities.”

Southwest executives reassured the traveling public this year that the company had improved its technology to avoid a crisis like last year, which the pilots union blamed on a lack of investment.

Last week it was announced that Southwest pilots would vote in January on a contract that could increase salaries by 50% over the agreement’s five-year term.

For Carly Shaw and her husband, Sunday’s long wait for their flight to Florida was reminiscent of last year’s mishap when her husband was almost late for their wedding after four flights. Shaw said she is still worried about a repeat.

“At least we don’t have to make a hard deadline this year like we did last year,” she said.

Sunday was the second day in a row that the National Weather Service issued a fog warning for the Chicago area. Parts of central, east-central, north-central and northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana are affected.

The dense fog, which limited visibility to a quarter mile or less, created dangerous driving conditions, the weather service said.

Passengers search for their luggage in the baggage claim area at Midway International Airport on December 26, 2022.  Midway reported 307 flight cancellations and 152 delays that evening.

Passengers search for their luggage in the baggage claim area at Midway International Airport on December 26, 2022. Midway reported 307 flight cancellations and 152 delays that evening. The federal government fined the airline $140 million and the airline paid passengers $600 million in refunds.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times (File)

According to the weather service, the weather on Christmas Day will be rainy, with high temperatures around 50 degrees. The rain will continue into Monday night, with lows around 45 degrees.

Ocho and Abel, brothers from the Indianapolis suburbs who declined to give their last names, said they received $15 gift cards when their flight to Guadalajara, Mexico, was delayed eight hours.

Brothers Ocho and Abel received $15 in gift cards from Southwest when their flight to Guadalajara, Mexico, was delayed eight hours.  The brothers find out more on television and vow to travel early next year.

Brothers Ocho and Abel received $15 in gift cards from Southwest when their flight to Guadalajara, Mexico, was delayed eight hours. The brothers find out more on television and vow to travel early next year.

Despite the compensation and a now 18-hour travel day ahead of them, they said they’ll settle for episodes of “NCIS” and “SWAT.”

“It is what it is, I’m not mad,” Ocho said. “We’ll see our family soon, so it doesn’t matter.”

The siblings said they usually travel the week before Christmas and said this year’s travel difficulty will likely prompt them to revert to their old way of leaving early.

“If you travel this close to Christmas, it’s bound to happen,” Ocho said. “We’ll probably leave a little earlier next year.”

Contributor: Mohammad Samra


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