Jade Rodriguez said her family had a “surreal” trip to Japan planned for her son’s 21st birthday.
But after Southwest cancelled their flight from Tuscon to LAX, they missed their flight to Tokyo.
“Had we just been notified sooner, we would’ve driven and made it,” Rodriguez told Insider.
A family from Arizona was “in shock” and “devastated” after a last-minute Southwest flight cancellation caused them to miss their trip to Japan and left them out thousands of dollars.
Jade Rodriguez told Insider she, her husband, and their two children planned a “surreal” trip to Tokyo, Japan, because her 20-year-old said that was where he wanted to go to celebrate his 21st birthday on January 2. They were going to visit Tokyo Disney and the Pokemon Cafe in Tokyo, take a train to Kyoto and go sightseeing at historic temples.
They planned to take off from Tucson on Christmas Day for Los Angeles, where they’d catch their flight across the Pacific. They say they were notified their flight was slightly delayed but had no indication it was in serious jeopardy of not taking off at all, and were unaware of the ongoing disruptions Southwest was already experiencing.
But when they arrived at the airport in Tucson, they were met with confusion and miscommunication from the airline.
Southwest employees said were still working on assembling a crew, but told passengers they should check in their luggage anyway. “It was just a lot of miscommunication. One attendant was saying, ‘We’re not getting to LAX,’ another was saying to check in our bags,” Rodriguez said. “It was utter confusion.”
After all the conflicting information the flight was finally canceled altogether about seven hours before their American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo was scheduled to take off. The drive from Tucson to Los Angeles was about seven and a half hours.
“Had we just been notified sooner, we would’ve driven and made it,” Rodriguez said, adding they tried everything they could to get on another flight but could not make it work.
Their flight could only be rebooked on Wednesday at the earliest, but it would be 20 hours of travel and would include covering the difference in flight cost. It would also only leave them about five days in Japan, upending their 8-day travel plan.
“We were just devastated. We’re just in shock,” Rodriguez said, adding that as of Friday they had yet to unpack all of their luggage because they were still struggling to process the situation.
Now they are trying to get as much of the trip refunded as they can, including from Southwest, American Airlines, the hotel in Japan, and Tokyo Disney, where they had already purchased tickets, among other expenses.
Rodriguez said they have received conflicting information from Southwest, with one email saying they would be getting a full refund and another saying they’d only be getting flight credits to be used in the future.
They did purchase travel insurance for the American Airlines flight to Japan and are hoping that means the full price will be covered. But Tokyo Disney, which is not owned by The Walt Disney Company, generally does not issue refunds.
Altogether, Rodriguez said they are out around $7,000.
They are still hoping to reschedule a trip for next year, depending on how much they can get refunded or rescheduled, but are unsure when they will be able to make a trip work for the whole family.
Rodriguez is a teacher, so she had this time off work, but would likely have to try to get work off in the spring because her break does not align with her son’s. Her husband, who is a retired member of the military but still teaches classes on the base, took off work for this trip and would have to try to do so again if the vacation is rescheduled.
Rodriguez said her older son is a college student who is “dedicated” to ROTC, a program that trains university students for military service, so he has limited time in which he can take a trip. He is also a big fan of Disney and Pokemon, which would’ve been the big highlights of the trip for him, so when they offered to take him somewhere else at the last minute, he just said “no.”
Rodriguez said that in the future she may consider getting travel insurance for the entire trip, rather than just the big international flights, even though they already have travel medical insurance through the military. She also said she knew some others may have had even more challenging experiences with the chaotic flight cancelations.
“I’m grateful we lived close and were with family,” she said. “But it was devastating really.”
The family was among thousands of Americans who experienced flight cancellations this week after Southwest had an operational meltdown. The airline canceled more than 2,900 flights on Monday, accounting for around half of all canceled flights across the world that day. The disruptions rippled through the travel industry, leading to rental-car shortages and higher flight prices.
When reached for comment, a spokesperson for Southwest said: “We apologize to all of our Customers who were affected by this disruption. Customers whose flights were canceled are eligible for a refund and are encouraged to submit requests for reasonable reimbursements for incidental expenses. Those will be processed on a case-by-case basis.”
The spokesperson also said impacted passengers can get assistance through a travel-disruptions portal on their site.
Tokyo Disney, which is owned by The Oriental Land Company, could not immediately be reached for comment. The Walt Disney Company, which licenses intellectual property to Tokyo Disney, did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
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