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Southwest cancellations: Rental car tips to battle the crisis

A backlog of returned cars sit at the Avis lot at San Jose International Airport. | Kevin V. Nguyen/The Standard

Travelers who booked flights with Southwest Airlines this holiday season now have limited options: Find an entirely new flight with a different airline (with limited protections from alleged price-gouging), or hit the road in a rental car. 

Since Dec. 22, the second biggest airline in the country has canceled about 15,700 flights in total. According to FlightAware, a flight tracking service, Southwest has canceled nearly 3,000 flights a day this week, accounting for around 84% of all canceled flights in the United States at one point. As of writing, that percentage has dropped down to around 58%. 

Southwest officials said the only way the carrier could restore its regular flight schedule was to cancel most of its flights this week, aiming for a recovery before next week—taking the crisis into the new year.

READ MORE: ‘Santa’ Misses Christmas Stuck in San Jose Thanks to Southwest

Avis customers wait in line at the car pickup area at San Jose International Airport on Dec. 28, 2022. | Kevin V. Nguyen/The Standard

If you cannot wait that long and are opting to pay for a rental car to drive to your final destination, here are some tips a local reservation agent recommends:

Make a reservation online before heading to the rental center. Don’t just show up expecting there to be cars readily available. Due to high demand, rental companies are operating on a razor thin margin of error.

Take advantage of digital check-ins. Customers often think that they can only sign their rental contracts in-person with an agent when they can actually do so online. An agent at Avis, a major car rental company, told The Standard that customers who signed their contract online can skip the first line in the lobby and proceed to the car pick-up area.

Avoid booking rentals on third-party sites. The Avis agent said during a crisis of this scale, that popular sites such as Kayak or Expedia might not have the most up-to-date inventory data. They recommend booking straight with your preferred rental company to avoid accidentally booking a car that is no longer in stock.

Southwest Airlines canceled most of its flights this week in order to "reset" and won’t be fully operational until 2023. | Kevin V. Nguyen/The Standard.

Kevin V. Nguyen can be reached at