If you've ever been stuck at the airport due to a canceled flight, you might have jokingly contemplated simply buying a cheap used car and driving yourself home. One couple actually did that back in December, and even got Southwest Airlines to reimburse them for the purchase.
As covered by Business Insider, Southwest Airlines canceled over 16,000 flights in December. Thousands of travelers were left stranded due to a scheduling system meltdown, exacerbated by extreme weather conditions. The airline is still processing refunds, and is being "really generous" according to Southwest CEO Bob Jordan. As a part of this effort, the company even reimbursed one couple for the $500 they spent buying a used car to get themselves home. "We covered it and bought them a car, so to speak," said Jordan.
Southwest canceled scores of flights in December, including 59% of its flights on December 28th alone. AP Images
Obviously, airlines are not typically in the business of buying cars for inconvenienced customers. The couple in question almost certainly purchased the used vehicle without the expectation they would be reimbursed for the cost. It's interesting to contemplate whether the couple's purchase decision would have varied had they known Southwest would foot the bill. Maybe they'd have pipped for something a little more flash, maybe in the $1000 to $2000 range.
Other passengers found other creative ways to get home. The Los Angeles Times reported on registered nurse Madeline Luzzo, who drove a rental car for 22 hours straight from Dallas to LA, sharing the drive with her husband and sister. The group estimated spending around $1000 all up to get home, with $400 on the rental car itself and another $250 for gas. The rest of the sum was spent on fast food on the journey and paying a sitter to look after Luzzo's dogs while she made the long journey home.
Outside of paying for used cars, Southwest has been digging deep to make up for the mass cancellations in December. In addition to paying out refunds and reimbursements, affected customers have also been granted 25,000 reward points, worth roughly $300. Overall, Southwest reported that the issue cost the airline approximately $800 million, with company financial statements reporting a $226 million loss in Q4 as a result.
A flight cancellation is almost always a huge inconvenience. However, coming out of the situation with a free used car ain't bad. It's often hard enough to get an airline to cover a hotel room, let alone something as oddball as a random car purchase. Not only did the couple involved get to keep the car, they got a great story out of a bad situation, too.
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