Horror on Southwest!
Apr 5, 2000
The day was Thursday, Feb. 23,1999. The time was 5pm cst. The place was Birmingham Ala. Airport. Myself, wife, and daughter were there to fly to El Paso TX. Departure time was 6:30pm. It was our first time on Southwest.
The weather was cloudy and humid. Thunderstorms were in the forecast.The Birmingham area was under a severe thunderstorm watch. We checked in our baggage and went to the gate area. At 5:45 we began checking in with the gate agent, storms were approaching from the West. A tornado warning went up for the neighboring county. There was a TV at the gate so we could keep abreast of the local weather. The plane, a 737, had arrived at 5:30 and was being preped. Our first leg would take us to New Orleans. There we would catch another flight to El Paso. That flight would depart at 8:20 cst.
The sky outside was becoming dark. Lightning could be seen in the distance. At 6pm the area was put under a severe storm warning. Our departure became delayed. Arrivals were put in holding patterns over the airport. While looking out at our plane, I noticed that the luggage cart was still full. It was holding our bags and many others.
It began to rain and lightning. A ground crew member threw the cover over the baggage carts. I thought to myself why he did not pull the cart under the terminal or put it on the plane. It rained hard, the wind blew, and at one point I saw small hail. The airport was completely idle all around. Finally at 6:35 the planes coming in began to land. We began to board ours. If you have never flown on Southwest, the boarding process is different. Of course they let the disabled on first, but after that its a mad rush for the door. Southwest does not assign seats. Your booked on the flight. They book just enough to make sure everyone has a seat. It is your choice of where to have a seat. If you get on first, then you get the best seats.
They shut the plane up and pushed us away at 7pm. 30 minutes late. The pilot said we would be in New Orleans by 7:50pm, boy were we in for a surprise. Has we taxied toward the runway, I began to notice emergency vehicles pulling out of their little buildings around the airport. They were not going to the runway, just parking a little ways from their huts. I mentioned to my wife that maybe they were doing a drill or something.
We got to the end of the taxiway and began waiting to takeoff. I saw one plane takeoff ahead of us. Then one landed. We pulled up closer to the apron. Then it happened. A plane glided by in front of us landing. I could see it was a US Airways 737. I watched it slowly touch down, first the rear wheels and then sparks and smoke. The front bottom of the plane was throwing sparks like crazy. The plane disappeared down the runway in the light rain that was falling. The fire trucks took off screaming down the runway toward the plane.
We sat there for about 15 minutes. No movement anywhere around. I could see down the runway numerous lights flashing and what appeared to me to be a plane. The plane was partially on the runway and partially off of it, in the dirt. Our pilot announced that we were returning to the gate. It seems that a plane had landed and slid off the runway. The controllers were shutting down this runway. I found out later that the plane had been circling the airport during the bad weather. It was struck by lightning. It lost hydraulic control of it's front landing gear. The gear could not be locked down. Unpon landing the gear broke, causing the plane to skid on it's front belly. The pilot lost steering control and the plane slid off the runway and came to a stop in the mud. Several passengers were injured but none badly.
We got back to the gate. We sat there on the plane for about 10 minutes. The pilot told us he had no idea how long we would be there so he let people exit the plane. I had an idea of how long we would be there. We would be spending the night in Birmingham. I mean come on, this was a major accident. That plane would not be moved anytime soon. Unless there was another runway, we were stuck.
It was now 7:30. The gate agent announced that all passengers that had a connection in New Orleans needed to check at the gate. I went up there. She said that they were going to let everyone that had a connection back on the plane. The airport has another runway. However, it is a short one. The pilot would have to loose some weight off the plane in order to get airborne from this runway. So, half the original passengers were staying in Birmingham.
Then I asked the all important question, is our plane to El Paso going to wait on us? Sure Mr Woodall, it will be there when you get there. Boy was somebody wrong. We finally left that place at 8:15. The pilot let it all out to get to New Orleans. We pulled up to the gate at 9pm. As soon as we stepped off the plane into the terminal, I knew we were in trouble. It was deserted. I found our connecting gate, no plane was there! We were stranded!
I found a supervisor for Southwest, told him our plight. He said there was nothing he could do. Of course I raised haydees with him. I mean they had flew us down here saying our plane would wait and it did not, come on! After arguing for ten minutes we got results. They put us up in a Best Western across the street. Paid for supper. They booked us on another flight to El Paso in the morning.
Once we got to El Paso, I opened my suit case and found that several of my clothing items had faded. They were wet. Colors of each had faded onto each other. I complained to the agent at El Paso. After 3 weeks of conversing back and forth with their relations office, I got three gift certificates good for any flight on Southwest.
I have used Southwest a couple of times since then. The service was good. I would use them again in the future.