Stranded holiday travelers resort to Greyhound and car rentals, hoping to get home by 2023

Natalie Walters
The Dallas Morning News (TNS)

The arctic blast that started Thursday couldn’t have come at a worse time for the holiday travelers who were left stranded in airports across the U.S.

Southwest Airlines passengers have been told they won’t be able to rebook their canceled flights until 2023.

Some of them are taking matters into their own hands, renting cars and driving upward of 30 hours to get home in time for New Year’s celebrations.

There were more than 3,700 flight cancellations in the U.S. on Monday, leaving travelers looking for alternatives. (Dreamstime/TNS)

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There were more than 3,700 flight cancellations in the U.S. on Monday, with most of those being Dallas-based Southwest Airlines flights, according to Flightaware.com. Southwest Airlines said it canceled more than 2,700 flights in the coming days across the U.S. and stopped selling tickets for most of the country as it works to fix its scheduling software.

Dallas resident Jorge Lomeli, 27, said his ticket from El Paso to Dallas was canceled Sunday night.

“When I got to the airport, most car rental lines were empty because they said we don’t have anything so no one was even waiting,” he said. “Except for Hertz, which had a massive line that didn’t seem to move.”

The next morning, he looked into car rentals, which ran up to $500 for the day, he said. When he found a deal for $150 for a rental, he booked it. But when he arrived, he was told there were no one-way rentals left; all rentals had to be returned to the same location.

“I don’t take a ‘no,’” he said. “So I said to myself, ‘I need to find another way.’”

For Plan C, he bought a Greyhound bus ticket for about $240. But when he showed up at the El Paso station of the largest intercity bus service in North America, he said he didn’t feel safe there.

Lomeli said he was beginning to accept that there was no way for him to get home when a friend of his called from the airport and said, “If I find a car, will you ride with me to Dallas?”

The friend borrowed her grandfather’s car and the two drove nine hours through the night, arriving in Dallas at 4 a.m. Tuesday.

“It’s the end of the year and I have a lot to do for my (health care management company),” he said. “I was really stressed. But I’m really proactive.”

Car rental availability in D-FW

When looking online for rental cars in Dallas-Fort Worth on Tuesday, cars were available to rent and return to the same location in North Texas. But travelers who wanted to get out of Texas to travel back home were out of luck.

Alamo rental car service at DFW International Airport said it had no more one-way rental availability on Tuesday. Its answering machine also said it had longer-than-expected wait times to speak with someone due to the winter storm.

“Right now it’s tight because of the storm and the holidays because we can only do so many one-way rentals and then we have to cut it off,” a customer care representative said.

Enterprise, Hertz and Budget car rental services at both Love Field Airport and DFW did not answer the phone. Budget at Love Field said the wait time by phone was greater than 30 minutes to speak with someone.

Budget at DFW and Avis at Love Field did not answer any calls but had voice messages that explained how to get a refund if a flight was canceled for someone who prepaid for a rental car.