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Transportation

Southwest Is My Airline

Soon after getting married, I realized that I would be flying Southwest quite a bit more. It is the only airline to fly Austin to El Paso direct and, being the city of my wife’s family, it would be a common destination during the holidays. For five years, I’ve only flown Southwest.

Now, working for Automattic, and needing to travel some with them has exposed me to a few others: United and American so far. I can choose to fly with any airline, but those are the ones that are pre-programmed into the company’s travel purchasing site.

I realized though that I enjoy flying Southwest so much more than United or American.

While Southwest is considered a low-cost airline, I find the experience much more pleasant. Let’s start with getting at the airport.

On my latest trip, I checked a bag. I know, I know. I probably could have made it work, but I didn’t want to deal with carrying it through the airport between terminals for my layover. On United and American both, $25.00 for the first checked bag. In American’s case, the kiosk had an issue, so I had to wait in line to talk to an agent.

Going through security: This is why I’ve been opting for United or American while traveling for business. TSA Precheck. There are plenty of reasons to hate it—submit myself to a background check, additional photography, and fingerprint capture all to speed up security (and Customs, since I qualified via the Global Entry program). Pay a little ($100 for a five-year “membership”) and walk past the lines.

Southwest just announced that they’re in the program now, so benefit nullified. It is stupidly amazing how fast I can get through security as participating airports. My flight out of Vancouver accepted it too, which surprised me.

Boarding the plane. Here’s where plenty of folks tell me how much they don’t like the Southwest system. Here’s the breakdown if you’re not familiar: the “legacy” airlines all give you an assigned seat on the plane. On the boarding pass, it lists a boarding group. Great as this ensures we board in an orderly way… not quite.

Here’s what my latest American flight sounded like:

We’re now boarding American Flight 1234 service to Dallas-Fort Worth. First class passengers, welcome aboard. … Now boarding our Executive Plantium members. … oneworld alliance Ruby members and Active Duty military … [insert some other class of people that I zoned out during while waiting for my Group 2] … Group 1.

Not only did half the plane board before Group 1 was called, but let’s remember that you pay extra to be in the “first” boarding group.

Any other Group 1 customers? Okay, we have a full flight and overhead bin space is at a premium, so now we’re going to ask that any customer who does not have a bag for the overhead bin item to board.

Since I actually did check my bag, I could swing with this group. I don’t know when Group 2 was boarded. They might still be waiting at the gate.

The most annoying part of this, for me, was the crowd. Everyone is seated nicely, then they smell blood. Everyone had walked off of the jetway from our plane’s previous flight. In a fashion that I can only believe is due to some old way of boarding the flight that was a mass free-for-all, everyone stands up and create a semi-circle around the entrance to boarding lines. It is like a passive version of the crowd gathering around the back of the truck delivering supplies and food in a third-world country. The crowd often spills into the main walkway of the terminal.

Southwest Airlines flight landing.
Southwest Airlines landing in San Antonio. photocredit: flickr/jerandsar

The Southwest system doesn’t assign seats. When you check-in, based on first if you’re a very frequent flyer or if you paid for their “early bird” upgrade and then on the order that you check-in, you’re assigned a number. A1-A60, B1-B60, etc. When it is time to board, they ask that everyone with an A boarding pass to line up in a predefined area that has pylons denoting every 5 numbers. Pretty simple to figure out. After A1-30 board, while A 31-60 are moving onto the plane, B1-30 is queued up.

Sure, you don’t know where you’re going to sit. I like that. Sometimes, I feel like a window seat. I didn’t sleep well the night before and decided to sleep instead of work in flight. Or, I slept great, so I want my typically-preferred aisle. Great. I pick based on what I want at that time. Based on my back-of-the-napkin high-level math, I have flown 23 legs since the beginning of June. I hadn’t once not been able to get my preferred seat type.

In flight, Southwest give me snacks. The other airlines wanted my money.

The only advantages the other airlines have is some flights have in-flight entertainment and number of gates. Between my Kindle and my iPod, I’m all set. When flying to Vancouver, though, Southwest couldn’t get me there.

In the end, use the airline you like. For me and my money, Southwest is my first choice.

Disclaimer: This is completely my own. Southwest had nothing to do with this post. They gave me a thousand RapidReward points last year since I was just that shy of earning a companion pass, but that was almost a year ago and I didn’t even mention that above. 

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By <span class='p-author h-card'>Brandon Kraft</span>

My life is an open-source book.

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