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Flight cancellations lead to long lines and lots of luggage at the Austin airport

Southwest Airlines planes on the tarmac at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
More than 140 flights were canceled at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Tuesday. Holiday travelers are scrambling to get rebooked and airport personnel are urging patience.

Flight cancellations and a deadly winter storm that has swept across the U.S. are affecting holiday travelers at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

More than 140 flights were canceled Tuesday at the airport, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking firm. Southwest Airlines accounted for the lion’s share of cancellations with more than 120 canceled flights. The Dallas-based carrier has canceled more than 5,000 flights nationwide in the last two days.

The company has blamed the ongoing travel disruptions on the widespread impact of Winter Storm Elliott. But the U.S. Department of Transportation said in a tweet that the rate of cancellations was unacceptable and the agency plans to “examine whether cancellations were controllable.”

Austin airport spokesperson Sam Haynes cautions that passengers should be prepared for long lines at ticket counters as passengers try to get rebooked on other flights. Luggage is also piling up in baggage claim.

"You'll see a lot of luggage centered around the carousels,” she said. "That's checked luggage that arrived in Austin and is being maintained by the airlines as they work to reunite this luggage with their travelers."

Travelers may face more canceled flights this week. A spokesperson for Southwest told KUT in an email that the airline has “made the decision to continue operating a reduced schedule by flying roughly one third of our schedule for the next several days.”

Data from the City of Austin show Southwest has been the most popular airline for travelers at ABIA this year. More than 6.7 million people flew Southwest between January and October. That is up nearly 90% from the same period in 2021.

Haynes said ABIA is ready to help out passengers who get stuck at the airport.

“We have cots, we have food and water available for those who aren’t able to make other accommodations for their overnight stays,” she said. “Thankfully we haven’t had to use the cots this holiday season.”

Haynes said December is not usually the busiest time of year for the airport. Last December was the busiest December on record, with more than 1.5 million people flying in and out of ABIA. But Haynes said this December will probably surpass that record because the number of airline tickets for sale this year is up about 36% from 2021.

She recommends that travelers facing delays, cancellations and other issues stay in touch with the airlines.

“The airport can’t rebook you," she said. "We don’t schedule flights — that’s all at the sole responsibility of the airline."

Haynes says that it’s been a challenging year for air travel globally as the sheer volume of people taking to the skies has rebounded from the beginning of the pandemic.

She urges passengers to have as much patience as possible because it can take a while for flight schedules to return to normal after a disruption of this scale.

“These types of, especially nationwide, events are so disruptive and have trickle down effects for days and days and sometimes even weeks to come,” she said.

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Becky Fogel is the education reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at rfogel@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @beckyfogel.
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