Terminal delays

Students and staff reflect on inconveniences at airports over winter break


Photo courtesy of Marcus Praseuth | Used with permission

Senior Marcus Praseuth and his family row a whitewater rafting boat during their vacation in Cancun.

Lillian Wang and Eric Zhou

Associate Superintendent Tom Avvakumovits and his wife, Michelle Avvakumovits, were standing in line to board their flight to Phoenix when they received a text from Southwest Airlines saying their flight had been canceled. After calling Southwest to no avail, Avvakumovits and Michelle grew frustrated at the possibility of spending Christmas without their sons.

An operational meltdown prompted Southwest Airlines to cancel thousands of holiday flights over winter break, upending millions of customers’ vacations and costing the company up to $825 million. Avvakumovits was one of Southwest’s shutdown victims although he believes he and his wife “got off relatively easy.” Despite the cancellation, Avvakumovits was sure they “were going to make it there one way or another,” with Phoenix being only an 11-hour drive, so he took a taxi home to get their car. As he arrived back at the airport, Michelle, who had been waiting for their luggage, called to tell him the flight had been uncanceled. 

“I park the car,” Avvakumovits said. “I literally get out and run, I’ve got my computer backpack with me, [I] have to go through security again, and we are in full-on sprint to get to the gate, huffing and puffing [until] we get there.” 

Senior Marcus Praseuth was at the Oakland Airport at 2 a.m. when his family received the notification that their Southwest flight, which was scheduled to depart within the hour, had been canceled. After spending a night at the airport, the next flight Praseuth’s family managed to book was also canceled.

Senior Marcus Praseuth and sophomore Eugene Praseuth pose for a picture on a ride at Xplor Fuego. | Photo courtesy of Marcus Praseuth | Used with permission

Although his family ultimately drove a rental car to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and caught a flight from LAX to Cancun, Praseuth says the possibility that the family reunion, which had been planned for two years, would be canceled was especially upsetting to his parents.

“I had my siblings with me, [and] we were letting our parents figure it out because they were already stressed, and we didn’t want to add [to it],” Praseuth said. “It was suffocating to be in an airport for the whole day, [and] we definitely wanted to get out, [but] we didn’t know what was going on. It was my siblings and my family [sticking] together [that] made it more bearable because we were making progress even though [we were] running in a circle for a while.”

Eventually, Praseuth and his family were able to fly to Cancun in time to celebrate Christmas Eve with 29 other relatives. He says this reunion allowed him to finally spend time with his entire family, such as surprising his mother and uncle with a birthday cake and song in the middle of dinner one night.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had that giant get-together with family, mainly because [of] COVID,” Praseuth said. “Originally, we were supposed to have this trip way before COVID, [but] once COVID hit, everything got set back. So, being able to take in that moment where everybody’s just smiling, sitting in the restaurant we reserved, [was nice].”

Associate Superintendent Tom Avvakumovits and Michelle Avvakumovits pose in front of a Christmas tree in Phoenix. Photo courtesy of Tom Avvakumovits | Used with permission

Sophomore Praneel Shah stayed at the airport on Dec. 24 for an extra four hours after his Southwest flight back from the SoCal Cup Volleyball Showcase was delayed. Although he and his family were tired and wanted nothing more than to arrive home before Christmas, Shah understood the flight had been delayed for safety reasons. 

“It was just an inconvenience, but I was happy that the pilots [were] doing everything that they could to speed up,” Shah said. “It wasn’t necessarily their fault. It was just a timing issue, and I understand that they don’t rush flights because then it could lead to something disastrous.”

Although Avvakumovits arrived at Phoenix three hours later than expected and missed the family dinner, he still expresses gratitude for being able to spend Christmas with his sons, especially after seeing children and parents sleeping on top of luggage at the San Jose and Phoenix airports.

“It’s a constant reminder about [how] it’s easy for one to just look at their own situation,” Avvakumovits said. “It makes you reflect on what truly matters. We were luckier than most, so it makes me put things in perspective.”