Friday 26 August 2011

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Surviving Southwest

A couple of months ago, I wrote about buying my first ever Southwest ticket.  Guess what day today was?  It was finally time for me to test out the world of festival airline seating.  I've been dreading it for a while now, but eventually it had to happen.  So was all my worrying warranted or a huge waste of time?

Hmmm...get off in Vegas or carry on to Tampa during hurricane season...

Let me start of with a disclaimer and say that I did cheat a little by paying extra to have Southwest automatically check me in for the flight as early as possible.  Southwest numbers your boarding passes by the time you check-in for your flight.  There's A,B,and C groups and each group (on our flight anyways) had 60 slots.  You want an A boarding pass, as that way you get let on the plane first.  The boarding order goes Group A 1-15 (reserved for people who buy business select fares) / Group A 16-30 / Group A 31-60 / Families with small children / B 1-30/ B31-60/ C group. 

Our automatic check-in garnered us A24 & A25.  When it's time to line up, there are signs dividing the line into fives (eg. A16-20, A21-25, etc...) but Southwest tells you to find your own place in line. This is entertaining as you have to find the person with the boarding pass ahead of you, and it creates a clear pecking order as people try and make sure they're in the right place.  I found myself feeling incredibly defensive of my spot in line, leaving me trying to scan the boarding passes of the people in front of me to be sure that I hadn't been usurped by somebody with a lower number.  At this point in the day, my spot at the end of A21-25 was my most precious possession, and though I looked enviously at the few people in front of me, there were many more I could look back at with pity.  I was convinced that those poor people with C passes would be riding in the luggage hold.

They called our group forward, and everybody ahead of me grabbed seats in the first couple of rows on the plane.  Hello?  Ever heard of the exit row people?  Lori and I went back further, and sure enough all of the exit row seating was empty.  Lori even got a seat with no seat in front of her, which in hindsight was probably a bit of a waste as we don't really need that much legroom, but it became a point of pride as later people would come by and look longingly at the seat.

The plane filled up, and the flight attendant (We had two male flight attendants on our trip.  First time I've ever had more than one.) came out to ask the exit row questions.  I've answered these many times before on Alaska, where the flight attendant comes over and asks if you are comfortable with the duties of sitting in the exit row and we all say yes.  Southwest apparently takes this a little more seriously as we had a long discussion on how to open the emergency door and when it should be done (apparently not any old time you feel like it).  They also told us that in case of an evacuation, we would need to man the emergency exit, as they would be busy elsewhere.  I found that humorous as I had visions of me on the airplane wing helping people out while the flight attendants were pushing the beverage carts across the tarmac.  

Eventually we got underway and, much to my surprise, once you're up in the air Southwest is very much like every other airline.  It's kind of like the casinos in Vegas.  Every one of them looks different from the outside, but when you're in the middle of a sea of slot machines it all looks the same.  The flight was a little bumpy on the way in to Las Vegas, but no matter how hard I try, there doesn't seem to be a way to blame that on Southwest's boarding system.  We landed right on time, and we were off on another Vegas adventure.

So I've survived my flight with Southwest, and it wasn't as bad as I thought.  I'm still not a fan of the boarding process, but it wasn't the complete chaos I'd feared, and it does have the added bonus of making sure people show up at the gate on time.  They say Southwest uses this boarding system to allow them a quicker turnaround, but Alaska boards their planes in half the time.  I do love the fact that bags are free on Southwest, not because of the savings (we get free bags as elite flyers on Alaska), but since everybody checks their bags there is lots of overhead bin space.  Although I'm pretty sure that's where some of the people with C boarding passes had to sit.


  1. So funny to read about someone's first time doing something I do all the time! I used to not like flying Southwest alone (I still did it all the time), because you'd lose your line if you ran to the bathroom or something. But now with the numbers, it's much better. Welcome to Vegas!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Wow I didn't know there were no numbers before! That would really suck.
    Thanks for the welcome to Vegas. Now if you could just arrange for the machines to be nice to me, it'll be great! The malls are already being nice to my wife.