This isn't anything fancy, but I did want to relay a somewhat humorous story about my first flight on Southwest today. I decided at the last minute to take a few days off and head north to New Hampshire for my niece's fifth birthday party. I wasn't feeling too well, so I didn't gather any aircraft reg info or take any pics, but here goes:
WN Flight #1 JAX-BWI, Fri 13 Jul
Departed JAX on time @ 1:10PM, gate C6
Arrived BWI on time @ 2:55PM, gate A9
New cs 737-300 w/ winglets
So, this was my first flight on Southwest, even though I worked seven years in the airline industry and have always lived nearby WN cities. It's quite a feat that it took this long, frankly! Anyhow, my expectations were not too high and all of my friends told me to gear up for the cattle car experience of a lifetime.
Check-in via southwest.com was a breeze, even though I changed my flights less than 24 hours prior to departure, so I was allotted a "B Group" boarding card instead of the "A Group" I held for the original flights. I proceded to the gate upon arrival at a bustling but organized Jacksonville Int'l Airport, and staked out my post in the "B" queue. I am very interested in Southwest's business model, and how they keep costs low, so I paid particular attention to airport processes. I was impressed, first off, with the level of coutesy displayed by each and every WN employee, and by the technology they utilized at the boarding gate. It's worlds better than what we had at UA when I worked there up til 2006. Their boarding scanners appeared to read each and every boarding pass with no errors. The agents said thank you to every customer as they boarded, and gave as much eye contact as possible. Impressive. Anyhow, boarding was a snap, and on this full flight I snagged seat 6A, adjacent to engine #1.
The ground a/c unit hose was removed with a very efficeint rolling mechanism, and the PLB was retracted exactly on time, despite the 25-minute turn (again, impressive). Then, I noticed that the #1 engine had fired up, so I figured we were having an air start at the gate. I was wrong - a few seconds later, we were rolling back, and I realized that WN was probably trying to reduce taxi time by starting an engine at the start of push (a "resource optimization" technique we began at UA in 2006, which at the time, at least at my station, was not well adhered to despite the potential cost savings). Taxi began and I noticed that a huge thunderstorm was almost directly over the field. Great, I thought - we'd be waiting on the tarmac. I was wrong again. We had an imminent rolling takeoff on runway 31, directly into an ominous Southern summer sky. Not 1000' off the ground, our winglet-equipped 733 began shaking from the unstable summer air, and I experienced what I consider to be the worst turbulence I've ever had on a flight (far bypassing a stomach-hurling flight out of ATL on a DL 763 back in 2005). Not a big deal, but interesting nonetheless. Next, one of the pilots comes on the PA system and says in a convincing Southern drawl, "RIDE EM COWBOY!"....and laughter filled the cabin during an otherwise nerve-racking time. I felt a lot more at ease, as did the elderly woman to my right in 6B. At this point I realized that Southwest IS a different animal.
The flight to BWI ensued uneventfully with a selection of peanuts, Ritz Chips, and beverages, and we touched down on 33L a few minutes ahead of schedule.
WN Flight #1155 BWI-MHT, Fri 13 Jul
Departed BWI on time @ 4:25PM, gate A10
Arrived BWI early @ 5:45PM, gate 11
737-300 w/ slimline seats, no winglets
Again staking out my post in the B queue well ahead of boarding time, I observed a well-choreographed wheelchair crew waiting for the inbound flight from MCI. Whatever vendor WN uses in BWI appeared to be on top of things, compared to what I dealt with as a Supervisor at UAL. Hats off to them.
I grabbed seat 6A once again on this full flight, and we had a very quick taxi to runway 22. This flight was so uneventful, there is not much to write about, other than the superior service provided by the Southwest crew. Their annoucements were clear and concise, with bits of funnies here and there. One such comment was heard upon landing - "we've landed in Baltimore, okay bye see ya".
I just want to applaud these Southwest inflight, flight deck, and ground crews for a job well done. I'm looking forward to my trip back to JAX on Monday, when I'll [hopefully] be on a 737-700 for the first time. I am definitely big on the whole "low cost" deal that's all the craze these days. Despite the no-frills nature of WN's business model, I found their attentiveness to customers and general professionalism to be higher than any airline I've flown on other than Singapore. In comparion to jetBlue, which I've flown multiple times, I find WN better overall at the customer part of the equation, but B6 better on the product side. What really matters to me is service; to see employees going out of their way making people happy and having a good time doing it. So, Southwest, you've gained a new fan.
Over and out,