Rental car demand skyrockets at Orlando airport as cancellations continue

Some travelers left stranded by Southwest Airlines are driving home instead

ORLANDO, Fla. – Passengers from all over the country are scrambling to make new travel plans in the wake of nationwide flight cancellations.

Travelers are now taking matters into their own hands by getting a rental car and driving anywhere from 9 to 24 hours to get home.

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Damion Martin and his family were scheduled to fly out of Orlando International Airport on Wednesday at 3 p.m. Their flight with Southwest was canceled on Tuesday. Not only is this costing them their money, but it’s costing them their time too.

“We sat on the phone with Southwest yesterday for about six hours total until we were able to get in touch with someone,” Martin said. “The first time we were in the process of getting a refund and everything and we were hung up on.”

They’ve now rented two cars to make the nine-hour drive back home to New Orleans.

“I think both cars it came out to about $500 total for two mid-size SUVs,” Martin said. “So I mean expense-wise, pretty expensive.”

Even though their flight was canceled, they still had to come to the airport to get rental cars.

“That was the only way for us to get a rental,” Sara Martin said. “All the nearby locations close to the resort, they didn’t have anything so the only place we could come was here.”

But, it wasn’t all smooth sailing at the airport.

“Thrifty wasn’t able to accommodate us, so we had to go to Budget,” Sara said.

She said this is not the ending to their family vacation they were expecting.

“We have little ones that don’t understand what’s going on,” Sara said.

On top of the $500 for the two rentals, Damion Martin said they’ll also need to shell out extra money for food and gas — expenses they’re hoping Southwest will reimburse.

“Whatever expenses occurred during the cancellaton of our flight as far as gas, food, whatever, we were told to upload and then they will make a decision on what they can and what they can’t reimburse,” Martin said.

The Martins aren’t the only ones opting to drive rather than wait for another flight.

Scott Depovelo has declined an 8 p.m. New Year’s Eve redeye and is opting for the nearly 24-hour drive back to Buffalo, New York.

“I’ll do probably 12 maybe, then stop, take a break, I won’t stay at a hotel or nothing, I’ll just drive straight you know?” Depovelo said.

Depovelo was scheduled to depart Orlando on Wednesday. His Southwest flight was also canceled. He has been in Florida since Dec. 14 helping his mom clean up her home after it was damaged by Hurricanes Ian and Nicole.

“Got out of Buffalo, missed our storm and now I’m heading back for clean up at our house,” Depovelo said.

Depovelo estimates he’ll spend another $300 on top of his rental costs on food and gas. But despite his travel woes, he is trying to stay positive.

“I guess I got to deal with it right,” Depovelo said. “I can’t get too upset about it. Just go home and get back to life I guess.”

But, not all passengers are having a hard time. Some passengers who flew Southwest said they had no trouble making it to Orlando on Wednesday.

“We were very lucky that we were able to make it out on time,” said Chicago resident Nirav Thakker. “There was one small delay because we were coming in from Midway to Orlando and I think there was some backup with the air traffic control here.”

Thakker said they did have some anxiety heading into the trip because of the Southwest delays, but thankfully they didn’t face any major issues.

“This morning we arrived, we got on the plane, we didn’t actually check any bags, we took all carry-ons, we were able to get them on the plane, get over here with all of our bags and it wasn’t a problem,” Thakker said.

As of 3:30 Wednesday afternoon, MCO had experienced 130 cancellations and 218 delays. So far, that number is down from 169 cancellations on Tuesday and 539 delays.

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Emily joined WKMG-TV in November 2022.