For years, I have avoided Southwest Airlines, even after watching its reality show a while back. I thought of it as the Walmart of travel. Being a Virgo, the unassigned-seat approach seemed as if it would upset my sense of order and make an already-stressful experience more so. I have flown a lot in this lifetime, but that doesn’t mean I like it.
Recently, when searching for Vegas tickets on our new, one-income budget, I asked Jim to check Southwest to see if it might be cheaper than our other alternatives. Living in Erie, PA, we do not have the option of Southwest, but the Buffalo airport is just a 90-minute trip along I-90 for us. Cleveland and Pittsburgh expand our options, too, but Buffalo is the easiest and quickest of the three to get to.
Well, it turned out that the Southwest option made a lot of sense for us monetarily, so click, click, tickets picked. Afterward, I fretted for weeks about where we would sit on the plane. On some previous trips, I have seen people go through the Southwest boarding process, but I wasn’t quite sure how it worked. Jim said it went by priority, depending on when you checked in, beginning 24-hours before the flight. I reminded him more than a few times to make sure he checked us in at the first possible moment.
Checking In Early to Get a Good Position
The day before our trip, Jim started trying to check in at 4:30 p.m., but the system wouldn’t let him, because the flight’s departure wasn’t until 4:35 p.m. With vigilance, he kept trying, and right around 4:35, he was successful. This resulted in us being assigned numbers A50 and A51 in the queue. He assured me that there were more than 50 seats in the area I like to sit in (above the wing) because of motion sickness.
After consulting Seat Guru, I discovered that we should try to sit in row 16, and we should avoid rows 9, 10, and 14. Nine and ten should be avoided because they don’t have windows on one side and 14 because of its limited recline. That doesn’t really matter, because we rarely recline our seats, not wanting to crunch the people behind us (or be yelled at by them).
Of course, we were late leaving Erie (it’s good to have a goal), so by the time we arrived at the gate, the fliers had already taken their posts in the assigned locations of the queue. I had pictured 160 people all lined up like a snake, but not all 160 line up at once. The “A” group lines up by number, then the “B” group, etc. There is signage for each group of five, and you just find your bracket and stand there.
I would imagine for anyone who has trouble standing, this process could be a bit tiring. We waited there for about 20 minutes before it was time to board.
When I gave the gate attendant my boarding pass, I waited for her to return it to me, but she kept it. I thought that was kind of nice, because I wouldn’t have to decide after the trip whether to file it or pitch it, but I hoped they would recycle it. Then, I realized that there really was no need for the boarding pass anymore, because we had no seat assignments.
Upon the plane, I saw that row 16 was completely full. But there was an exit row with seats available, so we grabbed them. What good fortune! I read the instructions in my seat pocket and was ready to open the emergency door if needed.
Happy Flight Attendants=Happy Travelers
During our trip, I noticed some distinct differences between Southwest and other airlines, such as US Airways, Delta, and United. To sit in the exit row on the other airlines, you have to practically pass a fitness test and sign a notarized document. Not really, but you have to RESPOND VERBALLY to the flight attendant’s query as to whether you understand your responsibilities. On our flight, the attendant was much less intimidating but still checked in with us.
On the subject of flight attendants, I was unclear at first which people were the flight attendants, because they dress pretty casually. This might not be a good thing if there were an emergency, but it could have something to do with why they all seemed to be so—happy.
I also noticed that the flight attendants weren’t chiding everyone to hurry up and take their seats. And yet, it seemed that the boarding process went quickly, even considering the unfortunates who had to take the middle seats. There was a distinct vibe of cooperation among my fellow travelers, too.
When it was time to give the safety instructions, a flight attendant said, “Did someone lose their wallet?” That was a good way to get everyone’s attention. This young man’s shtick was not as entertaining as the flight attendant, Martha Cobb’s, instructions that went viral, but he inserted a few funnies into his spiel.
Flight Was A-OK
Up in the air, snack time was great fun. I declined a beverage, having the water purchased after security for my Dramamine, but when the woman busted out the food, I perked up. She was offering pretzels, peanuts, wheat thins, and cookies. I told her that I’d like some wheat thins. She asked if I wanted anything else. What? Sure! I asked if I could have some of those peanuts. She said, “Absolutely!” I asked if I could have some pretzels. Again, the affirmative. Jim asked for cookies, and she asked me if he was allowed.
The flight itself was uneventful, even though they kept warning us about turbulence. Since I’ve started sitting above the wing, I don’t feel the bumps as much anymore, but I’ve been on plenty of flights where people were actually shrieking in fright, so this was nothing.
There is also the matter of the forward-compartment bathroom. Several announcements were made about people standing in line there. This is not allowed for security reasons. Some one needs to think of a solution for that, so they don’t have to keep repeating themselves.
Regarding my seat, the only things I didn’t like are that there was no armrest on the door side, and the door itself was dripping water when we were landing. When I told the flight attendant about it, he was not concerned and said it was just condensation. Okay. . . well, at least I reported it.
So, that’s it. An account of an experienced traveler, trying a new airline and the observations of that experiment. And the row we sat in? I looked up when we were ready to deplane, and it was 14, the one I wanted to avoid. The worst row in the plane, and it was just fine. (Of course, we didn’t recline.) I am, of course, fretting a little about what our boarding positions will be on our return trip, but if all goes well, Southwest might just be our new favorite.
P.S. Here’s what three men were doing on the plane:
FYI. Those are games being played.
Ann Silverthorn is a writer who won’t be classified or categorized. One day she’s writing about her Cairn Terrier rescues, Nutmeg and Nora, and the next, she’s posting about a business topic or a research subject. Imagine the two of you are meeting for coffee, and she wants to share something new, interesting, amusing, or perplexing.