The last week of 2022 was rife with travel nightmares as winter storms surged across the country and airlines canceled flights en masse, and Long Beach was not immune.
The local airfield had a total of 166—or 44%—outbound Southwest flight cancellations from Dec. 23 through Jan. 1, according to spokesperson Kate Kuykendall. The result was high stress for workers and travelers, alike, and the loss of an estimated $500,000 in revenue.
“We do anticipate that we will be able to recover those losses,” Kuykendall said, noting that officials expect strong spring and summer travel seasons.
Kuykendall said, however, the losses are not “hugely significant” compared to the overall budgeted revenue for the 2022 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. The budget estimated $48.3 million in revenue, which is on par with pre-pandemic levels and breaks down to an average of just over $4 million per month.
The airport is one of few city departments that is self-sustaining, using only revenue generated through its own operations as well as government grants. One source of revenue is a $4.50 passenger fee for each ticket sold for flights departing Long Beach. In the event of cancellations and subsequent refunds, however, the airport loses that revenue.
Other sources of revenue include landing fees, parking, car rentals and concession sales, among others.
When the cancellations first started, Kuykendall said many passengers were not being notified, which resulted in long lines and agitated customers.
“Especially in the very beginning when it wasn’t clear what was happening, passengers were confused how … the nation’s weather was affecting their flight in warm and sunny Long Beach,” she said.
Airlines’ networks are interconnected, which means the plane and crew that is slated to fly passengers from Long Beach could get stranded in another part of the country due to inclement weather. This can cause a ripple effect that cancels or delays several other flights as airlines scramble to adjust staff and aircraft.
In the case of Southwest Airlines, Long Beach’s largest carrier, its archaic system used to track the locations or crew and craft crumbled amid the disruptions, which resulted in more cancellations than other carriers with more modern systems. The airline canceled thousands of flights during the busy holiday travel season.
Early amid the Southwest meltdown, the long lines and uncertain passengers already through security were still purchasing concessions, Kuykendall noted. Once it became apparent, however, that the issues would continue and customers were being notified before arriving, the airport was a relative ghost town—save hundreds of bags that became stranded at the airport’s baggage claim area, many of which Southwest had to mail back to customers.
“Our number one concern is really the impact on our passengers,” Kuykendall said. “This impacted them during a really important holiday season and we’re really pleased to see that Southwest is making efforts to work with all the affected travelers.”