Stranded Southwest passengers exploring alternate travel options

The ripple effect from this week’s slew of canceled Southwest Airlines flights is creating another type of demand – for hotel rooms and rental cars.

At Mineta San Jose International Airport Wednesday, there was a clear sign of turbulence: The car rental counters were busier than the ticket counters. The crowd of potential renters was looking, scanning, texting, and searching for other travel options.

"I’m here from Denver, for my brother’s wedding," said traveler Fasiha Farooqui.

She and her cousin, Javaria Farooq, planned to fly down to Orange County. But, their Southwest flight, like all others, was canceled. So, driving was their next best option.

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It becomes an increasingly expensive option when factoring in the cost of food, lodging, rental, and filling the tank for the 300-plus mile drive.

"A couple of thousand dollars easily. Obviously, we weren’t anticipating this insane expense. But here we are," said Farooqui.

Many Downtown San Jose hotels report a rise in customers and a drop in vacancies since the travel crisis started.

"Little bit of a bump. It’s a thin silver lining in a really unsettling situation with all the cancelations," said Gary Schlossberg, global strategist with Wells Fargo Investments. "It’s a material effect in the immediate area around the airport…It does provide a lift to restaurants to some extent hotels, that would normally see a wind down after the Christmas holiday."

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Some car rental companies are running out or low on their inventory – slowing the process to a crawl. It’s enough to crush anyone’s mood. But potential renter Mike Olmstead is bucking that trend while trying to get to Tucson for his daughter’s wedding.

"Never did the math. Didn’t matter. It’s your kid’s wedding. You gotta go, whatever it takes. So we’ll say $200, 230 [dollars] maybe, yeah," said Olmstead.

Some hopeful renters are braced for bad news, on top of the bad news they’re already dealing with.

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And others say they’ve already started thinking if getting there is this much of a hassle, what will the return trip entail?

"And the anticipation of whether our flights will get us back home?," said New York City resident Javaria Farooq. 

"I know, right? Because I still have to go back to Denver. And she has to go back to New York," added Farooqui.

Experts said costs will continue climbing for stranded Southwest flyers as the days roll on.

The airline had 144 canceled flights at San Jose’s airport Wednesday, down slightly from the 157 yesterday.

Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station's South Bay bureau. Follow him on Twitter @JesseKTVU and Instagram @jessegontv