Warsaw couple left stranded in NYC amid Southwest Airlines debacle

By Dan Spalding
News Now Warsaw

WARSAW — A dream vacation turned into a momentary nightmare for two Warsaw residents who were stranded in New York City after airlines canceled thousands of flights due to the weekend blizzard.

Stephanie and Eric Schaefer were in New York to see the Radio City Rockettes on Christmas eve. They did the quintessential site-seeing ahead of time, visiting the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and the 9-11 Memorial, which she described as “very touching.”

As a special gift, Stephanie said her husband booked a 10 p.m. show to see the Rockettes, which turned out to be “outstanding.”

Once they were aware of the impending storm, Schaefer said they tried to book an earlier flight home, but was told that was not possible.

On Monday, when they arrived at LaGuardia Airport, they were informed by Southwest Airlines that their flight had been canceled and that the next available flight might not happen until Jan. 4.

The airline offered them $500 per day to cover expenses, but the couple, like many others, began looking for other options to get home.

Schaefer, who works as the recreation director for Warsaw Parks and Recreation Department, quickly learned the snowstorm was not the only factor for Southwest.

“They told us it was because of the weather, but when we went over to the American Airlines counter, they told us that was not the case – that they were having staffing issues.”

They were able to book a flight with American Airlines for Wednesday morning. However, she said, they would have to land at O’Hare Airport in Chicago and then drive over to Midway International Airport to pick up their vehicle before they could drive home.

Schaefer said they talked with other passengers whose circumstances were much worse.

“There were hundreds of people stuck in line for five hours and we were one of them,” she said.

“But it is what it is. You just have to go with it,” she said.

The federal government is not so forgiving. The Schaefer’s flight was one of 2,900 canceled by Southwest on Monday. More were expected today.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation called out Southwest for what appeared to be a disproportionate number of cancelations compared to its competitors.

“USDOT is concerned by Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays & reports of lack of prompt customer service,” the department wrote in a tweet.

“The Department will examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan.”

Long lines are seen at John Glenn International Airport in Columbus, Ohio, as a result of flight cancelations that affected the entire country. Photo provided by Kevin Landers, WBNS-TV.