Taking on the Storm


Esta Kamau

Airplanes tend to delay or cancel flights due to freezing temperatures, snow, ice or thunderstorms. A severe snowstorm caused flight shortages on Dec. 21-26, impacting travelers like English ASC teacher Kristen Witt. “It was out of [everyone’s] control how the weather would turn out. They were doing the best they could [do], and the agent at the gate did a great job of keeping everybody informed about what was going on and kept us calm,” Witt said.

Passengers pull hefty suitcases behind them, rushing to their terminals at the St. Louis Lambert International Airport. Suddenly, the intercom rings and announces unfortunate news of canceled flights, ruining many travelers’ plans for winter vacations and stranding others in unfamiliar cities. 

Over winter break, a prolonged snowstorm of below-freezing temperatures hit the United States. Around Christmas and New Year’s, thousands of flights were canceled by multiple carriers due to the severe weather, lack of staff and outdated software. 

Senior Megan Hoenecke had planned a three-hour flight to North Carolina with her family on Dec. 27, but a sudden weather change caused their flight with Southwest to get canceled. Hoenecke’s family hoped to visit friends and celebrate her mom’s birthday and ultimately decided to drive 12 hours to get to their destination.

In the event of cancellations, there are rules set in place, varying between each airline, to reimburse customers. Airlines are required to provide refunds or rebook canceled flights at no additional cost. (Serena Liu)

“My family and I love to travel. We were disappointed in the airline, but we knew it was just a weird time. We will still fly with Southwest, but it just sucked,” Hoenecke said.  

After senior Samarth Samal and his family got stuck in Houston, Texas, due to major cancellations of flights within Southwest airlines, they earned rapid points from Southwest’s point system and will be expecting a refund.

“Me and my family were supposed to [spend five days] in Cabo, Mexico. We were supposed to leave on Christmas Eve and return on the 29th,” Samal said. “While in the Houston airport, we heard an announcement over the intercom saying our flight [with Southwest] to Cabo was canceled. Everyone just started panicking, but we got very lucky because I have family in Houston. My word of advice is to [always] make sure you have a backup plan ready in case your flight gets canceled so you can [prevent] panic.” 

In addition to flight reimbursements, some airlines offer hotel accommodations for travelers. English ASC teacher Kristen Witt planned on traveling to Munich, Germany, where she would meet up with her husband to begin their winter vacation. Knowing many Southwest flights were being canceled, she booked a flight on United Airlines heading to Denver, Co., but her connecting flight from Denver, Co. to Munich was canceled due to major weather changes.

“We rebooked my flight to Denver, thinking we would miss the weather. [Unfortunately], the weather returned and encompassed Denver, so we were stuck waiting at the [gate] for three hours. They would have to de-ice the plane [over and over again] because there was a -50 wind chill,” Witt said. “Eventually, the flight was canceled. An agent handed out a reimbursement form for a hotel for the night, or you [could] choose to sleep in the airport and get paid $150 for the burden.”

[When] we got to the gate, and they sent out a message telling everyone that their flights were canceled. We began to wonder] what had [happened to] our bags. It was the biggest problem for us because they took our bags and checked them in and couldn’t return them. [Eventually], three weeks later is when we finally got our bags.”

— Risa Cidoni

Despite safeguards put in place to protect travelers, if sudden changes happen to flights, it is helpful to ensure you can locate your checked-in luggage beforehand. Many airports had confusion with many sudden cancellations of flights, causing people’s luggage to get lost. This was the case for sophomore Risa Cidoni and her family, who originally planned on going on a skiing trip in Denver.

“[My family’s original plans] were to leave for Denver Christmas Eve through [Southwest airlines], then spend our Christmas there. It was disappointing because we didn’t have any presents we were going to open during the trip. [In my case], it was better for my family to still be in St. Louis rather than on a connecting flight,” Cidoni said. “[When] we got to the gate, and they sent out a message telling everyone that their flights were canceled. We began to wonder] what had [happened to] our bags. It was the biggest problem for us because they took our bags and checked them in and couldn’t return them. [Eventually], three weeks later is when we finally got our bags.”

According to Thrifty Traveler: Snow Storms Threaten to Upend Holiday Travel, there are some basics to booking flights to help you avoid confusion. The Transportation Department says they hold airlines accountable if they fail. Senior Allie Byergo is counting on this to happen as she and her friends head to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, for spring break. 

“[My friends and I] are going to Punta Cana for about four days. [Hearing about] what happened over winter break was kind of crazy. It was weird to see how easy it was for a lot of the airlines to have such issues with getting flights in the air. It does make me worried because I definitely don’t want to miss out on the short vacation that we have. [But], I’m [definitely] going to be more careful to make sure I have everything I need,” Byergo said.