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Hundreds of unclaimed bags sit at Salt Lake City airport as Southwest promises return to normal

Anxiety, frustration turns to exhausted relief for passengers returning home after delays

SHARE Hundreds of unclaimed bags sit at Salt Lake City airport as Southwest promises return to normal
Casandra Friend celebrates finding her luggage at the Southwest Airlines carousel at the Salt Lake airport.

Casandra Friend, of Provo, celebrates after finding her luggage at the Southwest Airlines luggage carousel at the Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. Southwest Airlines says it’s poised to resume normal schedules after a tumultuous eight-day meltdown that left hundreds of thousands of passengers delayed or stranded.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

For Daniel and Casandra Friend, the last four days have blurred together into what felt like one long, expensive day full of anxiety and exhaustion.

On Christmas Day, the Friends and their two daughters, ages 2 and 3, were supposed to fly home to Utah from their visit with grandpa and grandma in Texas. But after they had already checked their luggage — right as they were supposed to board their flight out of Dallas Love Field Airport — they were swept up in the great Southwest Airlines meltdown.

The flight was canceled due to a crew member shortage, and they weren’t getting their belongings back — including two car seats for their toddlers.

“They said they didn’t have enough manpower to take it off the plane and give it back,” Daniel Friend told the Deseret News on Friday morning. “So it was going to Salt Lake without us.”

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Luggage waits to be collected at the Southwest Airlines luggage carousel at the Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. Southwest Airlines says it’s poised to resume normal schedules after a tumultuous eight-day meltdown that left hundreds of thousands of passengers delayed or stranded.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Suddenly they had to figure out how to get their girls safely from the airport without car seats — and how to spend the next four days in Dallas with nothing but the clothes on their back.

“Thankfully, my brother was still in town for Christmas, so I was able to borrow his car seats on the way back,” Daniel Friend said. “But then we went to Target the next day ... and we spent $1,000 on brand-new car seats, toiletries and clothes, because all of our luggage was gone.”

Fast forward to Friday, when Southwest promised a return to a normal flight schedule, and the Friends were among dozens of passengers searching for their belongings in a sea of unclaimed baggage at the Salt Lake City International Airport.

Luckily, the bags were well organized and the Friends easily spotted their bags and car seats.

“We’re just relieved that we finally got to fly today,” Daniel Friend said, just as he and his family were getting ready to embark on their last leg of their journey — the shuttle to the economy lot to pick up their car, then their drive home to Provo.

At home, Christmas presents are still waiting under the tree for their girls to unwrap.

As for the $1,000 spent to salvage the last four days, Daniel Friend said he’ll be starting the process to seek a reimbursement from Southwest — but he’s grateful their family budget could absorb the unexpected blow.

“We missed the money, but we’ll be OK. A lot of people aren’t in that position,” Daniel Friend said.

Southwest has said it will honor “reasonable requests for reimbursement,” including for meals, hotel and alternate transportation. The airline has encouraged passengers to submit receipts for consideration on Southwest.com.

Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said in an interview on ABC’s ”Good Morning America” on Friday that the airline is prioritizing reimbursing customers and getting them reunited with their luggage. He continued to apologize, and said beyond safety, there’s “no greater focus” than taking care of customers.

“There’s just no way almost to apologize enough because we love our customers, we love our people and really impacted their plans,” Jordan said. “There will be a lot of lessons learned that come out of this.”

Customers gather at the Southwest Airlines customer service office at Salt Lake City International Airport on Dec. 30, 2022.

Customers gather at the Southwest Airlines customer service office at the Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. Southwest Airlines says it’s poised to resume normal schedules after a tumultuous eight-day meltdown that left hundreds of thousands of passengers delayed or stranded.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

As of Friday afternoon, no flights had been canceled at Salt Lake City International Airport. About 67 had been delayed, according to the FlightAware MiseryMap, but airport spokeswoman Nancy Volmer said those were likely due to de-icing needs. A massive snowstorm is expected to pummel Utah over the New Year’s holiday weekend.

“There aren’t any cancellations today, which is great,” Volmer said. “That’s good to see for sure.”

Friday was slated to be an unusually busy day, even for a holiday weekend. Due to weather and rebooked flights, passenger volumes shifted throughout the week. Friday, over 29,100 passengers are expected to come through the Salt Lake City airport’s front door, not including connections, Volmer said.

Hopefully, Friday marks the tail end of the Southwest chaos.

“Things are looking up,” Volmer said, thanking “all of the passengers for their patience and staff who have been managing a very challenging situation.”

Contributing: Alex Cabrero