65% of Southwest flights at Oakland, San Jose canceled

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When Magali Hernandez boarded a flight in Portland on Sunday, she was supposed to end up in Disney World soaking up the rays in sunny Orlando on her family’s long-awaited vacation. Instead, Hernandez, along with her two young children and husband, spent Christmas stuck in San Francisco at an airport hotel without a change of clothes.

“We arrived in San Francisco and they told us our flight to Orlando was canceled,” she said while holding back tears.

On Monday morning, it was still unclear if her family would be reimbursed for its multi-thousand dollar vacation package and Hernandez was already exhausted from spending about 12 hours on hold through a flurry of cancellations and delays with Alaska Air.

“We’re stranded here,” she said.

The Hernandez family’s multi-day odyssey is part of one the worst holiday travel seasons in recent memory. With more than 17,000 flights canceled since Wednesday and tens of thousands more delays, the massive winter storm that swept through swaths of the country over Christmas weekend upended celebrations from coast to coast.

Even as the bad weather abates, air travel is still feeling impacts of the storm. In the Bay Area, Oakland International Airport and San Jose Mineta International saw a virtual travel meltdown on Monday with over 65% of Southwest Airlines flights canceled as the airports turned into a maze of lines and strewn-about luggage. SFO, which isn’t a Southwest hub, saw far fewer delays.

“With consecutive days of extreme winter weather across our network behind us, continuing challenges are impacting our customers and employees in a significant way that is unacceptable,” Southwest said in a statement. “And our heartfelt apologies for this are just beginning.”


Kathleen Bangs, an air travel expert at Flight Aware, said the storm’s devastating impact caught the industry off-guard after a smooth Thanksgiving travel weekend.

“I don’t think anyone saw just how bad it was actually going to get,” Bangs said.

Her advice for travelers stranded across the country: “You have to look at the country like a chessboard.”

Bangs said travelers need to consider flights to airports that are within driving distance of their destination. Or book a flight with a less risky connection – stopping in Phoenix versus Salt Lake City for example – to avoid delays, she said.

“Don’t wait for the airlines to figure out the solution for you, because they’ve got another 1,000 people in line.”

On Monday, Hernandez was back at San Francisco International Airport to pick up her family’s delayed luggage. They are hoping to salvage what is left of their vacation. The family has two more nights stranded in the Bay Area while they wait for the next available flight to Orlando. On Wednesday morning Hernandez’s husband, Eloy, will fly there with the kids. Meanwhile, Hernandez will wait for a separate flight 12 hours later.

“We’re trying our best,” she said. “At least now we have clothes.”

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 26: Travelers navigate through rows of luggage from canceled flights in Terminal 1 of the Oakland International Airport on Monday, Dec. 26, 2022, in Oakland, Calif (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group) 

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