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Passengers at DIA continue navigating flight delays, cancellations and tracking luggage

Many passengers who had flights canceled say they still have not been able to retrieve their luggage.

DENVER — When Grace Ling was making her travel journey back to her home of San Jose, California, she had to first connect through Denver, which was in the midst of enduring record-setting cold temperatures with snow. 

On Thursday night, she boarded her flight in Denver close to 9 p.m.

"I woke up from my nap, I looked out the window and I saw snow outside. I thought I was waking up from a nightmare because I thought we were landed. We're actually still in Colorado," she said, laughing as she recalled the story. 

She and her family spent the night at Denver International Airport, and finally were able to get on a flight Friday afternoon. 

In Ling's case, she said the crew announced that there were issues with getting bags onto the plane itself. 

"It kept getting delayed probably like eight times until 2:36 a.m.," she recalled. 

But her story is not unique this week, as thousands of passengers found themselves navigating hundreds of flight delays, cancellations and tracking their luggage.

Credit: Alex Castillo
A section of luggage specifically for Southwest passengers who had flight canceled and are awaiting pickup on Christmas Eve.

From cancellations and delays, to tracking luggage

“This would be his first Christmas," said Jenny Donaldson of Broomfield, as she held a photo of her 3-month-old grandson, Grayson. "And his first Christmas – he won’t remember it but we will."

Sadly, Donaldson's flight to Seattle to see him was canceled, and she says she could not rebook another flight until Dec. 27. 

The trip was already for just a few days, so they had to cancel. 

“You know we try to be positive and upbeat and…I think about that and I think about missing holding my grandson and it really does get me," an emotional Donaldson said. 

Late Saturday, she and her husband were now on the mission to track their bags, which they still didn't have. 

They just joined a long line that maneuvered in and out of baggage carousels leading to the Southwest office, which passengers needed to approach to file missing bag reports. 

Like many, Donaldson said they had waited hours in that line. 

“We’ve had a healthy year and we’ve been very blessed, it’s just been so disheartening to see a company not prepared and what feels like callousness to react to the situation," Donaldson said.

Credit: Alex Castillo
Jenny Donaldson holds a photo of her newborn grandson, Grayson.

Standing in line was Steamboat Springs resident Ryan Bethel, who had been there for three hours trying to track his luggage that should have met him in San Diego, where he was planning to visit his family. 

“They’ve been keeping in contact the whole day and it’s kind of worrying them," he said. “I’m hoping I’m getting out of this line otherwise I’m going without the bag regardless."

In the case of Southwest Airlines, a spokesperson said in a statement in part on Friday, that more than half of the airports where they operate in the continental U.S. fell under duress from the storm, and "Southwest has been uniquely effected given our size and structure."

"As it remains a very dynamic situation, we don’t have specific numbers to share on flight disruptions, but the storms have forced hundreds of cancellations throughout our network," a spokesperson wrote Friday. "We appreciate our Customers’ patience and apologize for inconveniences as we work to get them to their destinations as quickly and safely as possible this holiday."

Credit: Alex Castillo
Southwest Airlines passenger Ryan Bethel waits in an hours-long line to speak with a Southwest representative to help track his luggage.

Airlines try to adapt

Southwest Airlines could not confirm the exact cause of the bag delays, other than the winter storm had a large impact on their overall operations.

However, the airline did say that they put "emergency work procedures" in place, which among other things, requires a doctor’s note when an employee returns to work if they call in sick.

"...so that we can ensure Reliability for our Customers by having the necessary amount of available, working staff," a spokesperson said Saturday.

DIA said airlines hire their own ramp workers. 

In a statement, a spokesperson for United said, "Due to severe weather in Denver, including some of the coldest temperatures recorded at the airport in 30 years, our operation experienced disruptions that unfortunately impacted some of our customers. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and are working to get them their luggage and to their destinations with safety as our highest priority.”

That spokesperson added that a variety of factors went into play for the delays including ramp workers having to take warming breaks in such extreme temperatures, the impacts of severe weather in other locations and equipment issues in such weather. 

Credit: Photo courtesy of Grace Ling (@graceleaf_)
The view from the seat of Grace Ling on a United flight.

DIA is expecting things to get better as the weekend continues, and as passenger traffic dips on Christmas Day. 

In the meantime, Ling may not have gotten the arrival time she wanted, but she still had her optimism about the situation. 

 "I like to just try to see the bright side of every situation," she said. "I guess my message is it will be over soon - it's not there forever."

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