San Jose airport travelers caught in holiday nightmare
Flights were canceled across the board at Mineta San Jose International Airport Thursday morning. Southwest Airlines travelers are the most impacted. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

    For thousands of travelers, holiday cheer turned into a sack of coal due to massive flight cancellations caused by a “once in a generation” weather event and ill-prepared airlines.

    Flight cancellations started on Christmas Eve and continued to increase throughout the week, Mineta San Jose International Airport officials said. Southwest Airlines, one of the airport’s main carriers, had the majority of cancellations. Southwest canceled 60% of flights due to bad weather conditions, airport officials said.

    “The initial weather delays we saw across all airlines over the past weekend aren’t entirely unusual when winter weather occurs around the country, but the continued impacts to Southwest’s operation is highly unusual,” airport spokesperson Ana Maria State told San José Spotlight.

    Unclaimed luggage piled up at Mineta San Jose International Airport. Flight delays and cancellations have been going on for days. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

    The storm of cancellations will likely affect travel numbers for the holiday season, she said. With the upcoming New Year’s weekend still unpredictable, travelers should regularly check airline and flight announcements and prepare as much as possible in advance, State said.

    “We do not have any projections when it comes to delays or cancellations,” she said. “This is very hard to determine, as disruptions can appear.”

    Duyên Lương Nguyễn, 74, was planning to spend Christmas in Miami with family. Instead, he and his wife were stuck in Phoenix for several days after their flight was canceled. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

    The holidays ended abruptly for Duyên Lương Nguyễn.

    The San Jose resident had a flight to Miami with his wife on Christmas to visit his sister and her granddaughter. He and his wife found out their flight was canceled during their layover in Phoenix.

    “After that, we booked (a flight for) the 26th and that night, they said it was canceled,” Nguyễn told San José Spotlight in Vietnamese. “We booked the 27th, canceled. Booked the 28th, canceled.”

    After days of trying and failing to get another flight, the 74-year-old threw in the towel and drove 13 hours from Phoenix back home. He never saw his relatives, who by then had returned to Vietnam.

    Nguyễn was back at the airport Thursday morning trying to figure out how to get his tickets refunded.

    Mariia Derevianko, 34, is on her way to visit her family in Ukraine. She still has to fly to London and Krakow, Poland before a 10-hour bus ride home. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

    Meanwhile, the holidays are just beginning for Mariia Derevianko. The marketing professional from Seattle is on a lengthy journey to see her family in Ukraine, which celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7.

    In the span of one morning, Derevianko, 34, had the first leg of her trip from Seattle to San Jose canceled. She quickly rebooked a flight to San Francisco International Airport and took an Uber down to San Jose. She will travel on Alaska Airlines to London, and then on to Krakow, Poland, followed by a 10-hour bus ride to Ukraine. Any delay will derail every part of her trip, Derevianko said.

    “When I missed my flight here, it kind of impacted everything,” Derevianko told San José Spotlight. “I’m only going to have about seven or eight days with them. It’s a long way for a short period of time.”

    Christmas is different this year, Derevianko said, with the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war and daily air raid sirens in her family’s neighborhood. She’s still looking forward to whatever time she has with her family, she added.

    “My uncle has died on the frontlines,” Derevianko said. “Every single family has been impacted by someone either dying or losing everything they’ve had, losing the business they always owned or the home they lived in.”

    Derevianko said she’s keeping her fingers crossed she reaches her final destination.

    “It’s a long way for sure, but I’m glad I can make it,” Derevianko told San José Spotlight.

    Kristine Hedaria, 24, is hoping to start 2023 off by splashing in the freezing Atlantic Ocean with her sister. Her flight to Boston was canceled and she’s trying to find another one. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

    Kristine Hedaria’s travel plans are up in the air. She planned to ring in the new year by charging into the icy Atlantic Ocean waves with her sister, but her flight to Boston to visit her siblings, nieces and nephews was canceled.

    “She asked me if I wanted to jump into the ocean (on) the first day of the year,” Hedaria told San José Spotlight. “I was like, ‘You know what? I’ll do it.’”

    The 24-year-old said she’s overwhelmed and worried, but still hopes to secure another flight to the East Coast. She works full time and can only get time off during the holidays.

    “I gotta pay my bills,” Hedaria said. “I only get to see them once a year, and I don’t have any family in the area. So this is really upsetting.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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