As you are probably aware, the final scheduled Southwest Airlines service from Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport is April 2. I wound up with Southwest Ticketless Travel funds expiring soon, so I decided on a farewell flight out of IAH and an afternoon in Dallas.
Southwest started service over three decades ago by flying between a trio of Texas cities. Houston Intercontinental was one of the original stations along with Dallas and San Antonio. In 1972, one year after Southwest first graced the skies, they moved the Houston operation south to Hobby.
The mustard 737s returned to IAH in 1980. Southwest only served Love from Intercontinental, therefore limiting ticketed IAH passengers to cities within the Wright and Shelby* Amendments. Southwest had up to seven daily departures from IAH (six in recent times). Compare that with the THIRTY weekday flights each direction between Hobby and Love.
[*The Shelby Amendment came in 1987]
Morning came all too quickly. My beauty rest was interrupted by an alarm as a day full of buses, planes, and trains lay ahead.
Waiting for the downtown bus, the published time came and went, as did the other bus route to the Texas Medical Center. After waiting in excess of twenty minutes, I figured I just missed the downtown route on my way out the door and decided on Plan B. This second plan involved a double connection along with a train. I recall glancing at my watch and playing out various scenarios in my head along. An image of a plane taxing down the runway also accompanied lyrics of a Don Henley song. I would already be running tight and any additional delay would have me on the next plane. Sure enough, the TMC bus came and I hopped on. It deposited me at the train station in a matter of minutes.
I was the only one on this crowed train not wearing medical scrubs until we were away from the medical center. Near Herman Park, a bum sat next to me upsetting my nasal cavity. Fortunately, he got off at the next stop. Most likely to avoid a fare evasion ticket.
I crunched through the current edition of Texas Monthly. I was anxious to read the cover story about fellow Sam Houston State University alum Dan Rather. The long time CBS anchorman was most recently under fire regarding the memogate scandal.
I decided I’d Rather not be Dan.
I got off at a downtown transfer point and almost instantly boarded the 102 Bush IAH Express. Much to my delight, this was a very comfortable highway bus with cloth seats. I settled into a ‘bulkhead’ seat. Not the first row, but a few rows back, behind the wheelchair hoist. The bus meandered through the downtown area before proceeding north on Interstate 45. The habitual construction zone that Houston is looks like it has gone from bad to worse, especially downtown.
The bus exited in the Greenspoint area and made a few stops. Due to the high mortality rate of the area shopping plaza’s patrons a number of years ago, the area earned the appropriate title ‘Gunpoint.’
Passing the Halliburton facility at Beltway 8 and JFK conjured up an image of Dick Cheney in my head. I associate that company’s name with one of its more famous former employees.
We drove straight up JFK and then wound around the warehouse area just southwest of Terminal A. I spotted a hearse at Continental’s cargo facility. Apparently I was not the only one taking a farewell flight this morning.
At Terminal D – formerly known as IAB – I spotted a parked Trans Meridian 757.
The 102 Bush IAH Express only stops at Terminal C. Southwest’s boutique operation is located in Terminal A. I got off and proceeded inside and then quickly down the elevator to the train.
Thursday, 24 March 2005
Houston Bush Intercontinental to Dallas Love
The inter-terminal train was noticeably void of that usually present musty smell. I disembarked at Terminal A and went upstairs. Acting my usual time is of the essence, I made a pit stop and dallied around the Air Canada and United counters. I had not glanced at my watch since the bus stop. I eventually approached Southwest’s small counter. No other passengers were in line. I figured I would have to reissue my ticket for a later flight to Love.
The Southwest CSA asked if I am flying Southwest. I replied with an affirmative. (And no, I did not hope she’d ask my final destination just so I could reply ‘Hobby’ and advise her traffic was very bad on I-45 that day). The CSA told me I’d have to take the next flight. Her co-worker interjected I could make this one. After a brief exchange, the CSA called down to the gate on the radio. She advised me there is three minutes until scheduled departure and I cold make it if I hurried.
So I took off like a bat out of hell to the security checkpoint. I emptied the contents of my pocket into my shoulder bag, kicked off my shoes, and threw everything into one of those tubs. Thankfully there were only a handful of other passengers around. I almost walked through the metal detector and remembered two other items. I removed my belt and placed it into another tub and shoved my cane onto the conveyor belt. I proceeded through the metal detector and collected all my belongings. At least that’s what I thought.
A very courteous SWA gate agent promptly met me and took the shoulder bag. We chatted briefly hurrying to gate A1. I heard someone shout over her two-way radio “hurry up, the Capitan wants to go, we’re already one minute late!” At the gate, they had printed out a dupe boarding pass and scanned it. The gate agent and I zoomed down the jet bridge and boarded the Boeing 737. I was shocked upon seeing rear facing ‘lounge’ seats. I quickly settled down in 1D while the flight attendant stowed my cane and shoulder bag. Within sixty seconds, the door was shut and N508SW was pushing back.
Photo © Nathan Zalcman
Southwest Airlines announced they are phasing out rear facing seats, also called lounge seats. Their Boeing 737-200, -300, and -500 models flew with this seat style. The FAA changed restrictions on rear facing seats requiring increased strength in the floor and seatbacks. The new interior, installed at D check intervals, saves 600 pounds. This announcement was made four years ago and there are not too many ships with rear facing seats around.
During take-off and climb out, I chatted with the Houston based flight attendants. The purser said he too was shocked too see lounge seating. Seated across from me was an unaccompanied minor, next to her was a Dutch expatriate with daughter occupying the window seat. The center seat next to me was empty, and the Dutch expat’s son with a broken lower leg and one of those Velcro on mechanical looking casts was occupying the window seat. We chatted for a while and then started telling knock-knock jokes. I actually heard some pretty good ones. Within minutes, the entire forward cabin was laughing.
The FAs quickly came around with a tray of coffee and orange juice. Not having time to participate in the highway robbery known as an airport Starbucks, I had a coffee. I noticed this fifteen year old aircraft was very clean inside.
The Metroplex came into view. We landed on 31R and after a swift taxi, pulled to gate 1. After parking, the FA was very quick to grab my cane. I noticed it took another five minutes to retrieve Roboleg’s crutches from the overhead bin.
I waited for the other twenty-eight passengers to deplane as I move like a slug from time to time. I thanked the First Officer profusely for his involvement in holding the flight. I was the last passenger on that plane and the last one off.
I called OPNLguy, who sounded deadly ill. We chatted for a few minutes and any plans were scratched.
I then headed to have a cup of coffee and buy a paper. The newsstand was void of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, so with great reluctance, I coughed up fifty cents for a Dallas Morning sNews. My change included a new California quarter. Anyone else notice some of the state quarters contain images of people, places, and things that no one save for a history professor associates with any state.
Inside that newsstand, there was a customer pointing out a forgotten purse. The cashier refused to touch it (most likely for liability reasons). The Good Samaritan was saying that some unethical person could snag it. Knowing that an unattended bag could appear in the form of a forgotten purse, I told Good Sam I’d report it. I headed right across the hallway to the customer service counter and advised the staffer. The matter was immediately addressed. On the door next to the customer service counter, I noticed a slogan on a sticker in canyon blue. That Southwest style of writing said “Wright is Just Plane Wrong.”
The café located across from gates 2-3-4-5 at Love has a good vantage point of activities, so I decided to grab a cup of coffee there. I was surprised it was only $1.59. I saw tail number 509 and 510 parked next to my plane, 508. I also saw the Spirit of Kitty Hawk taxi by.
Photo © Stephen Dobbins
I chewed through the morning news. The previous day’s fatal plant explosion in Texas City dominated the front page, yielding Terri Schiavo just a side column. After about $1.00 worth of coffee, I decided on a change in scenery and exited security.
With Debbie gone and OPNLguy ill, I was forced to look elsewhere for something to do in Dallas.
I boarded a DART bus which deposited me in the West End District. That is when I noticed my belt is missing. It was left behind at IAH’s security checkpoint. Oh well, I’ll call their lost and found later.
I wandered around for a few minutes and then spotted the Greyhound bus station. Such depots usually are accompanied with large concentrations of bottom feeders. I made a mental note to avoid that area.
I decided it was time for lunch and grabbed a burger at one of those generic chain sit down restaurants. I initially sat outside to discover it was awfully windy so relocated to the inside bar area, much to my meteorological satisfaction. The chalkboard said “ask your server about our 72 oz special.” I did so accordingly, thinking it was alcohol related. It turns out a 72 ounce steak is free if you consume the entire thing in under an hour..
I left the 72 oz joint and set out on my quest to find some postcards. I spied the Palm Restaurant and was immediately oriented. At that intersection, there is a kiosk sponsored by Dallas’ downtown improvement district. This kiosk offers free info and the knowledgeable staffer, Delia, answered some questions and gave me a map of Dallas.
My next stop was the West End marketplace. I entered this complex and found the nearest shop that sold postcards. That shop happened to also contain Dallas Mayor Laura Miller hosting an entourage, one of them getting custom boots made.
After mailing the postcards, the next stop was Ol Red. This is the former Dallas County courthouse, now housing a visitor’s center. The visitor’s center contains four internet terminals for visitor use. I checked my email then took a look around. I grabbed a DART system map and got a chuckle out of what I spotted next. Next to a guest registry was a cup full of pens. These were not any ol pens, but ‘Continental Airlines’ pens. I had to snag one.
I decided to skip the Sixth Floor Museum since I have toured it previously. I recalled that famous photo of Johnson being sworn in on Air Force One and pointing out to my then girlfriend the civilian equivalent of that AF1 is a Boeing 707. I also remember the population of vagabonds near the grassy knoll claiming they were there in 1963 and saw everything including a second and, in some cases, a third gunman.
The mere mention of ‘Dallas’ conjured up negative emotions for a generation after the 1963 assassination of JFK. Those negative feelings were fading away with the rise in popularity of a television series taking its namesake from the city.
I planned on visiting Pegasus, the flying red horse of Mobil’s logo. Only in Texas would an oil company’s sign become a historical landmark. I nixed that plan looking at the DART system map and settled on a circuitous route that would enable me to take both the train and the streetcar.
I proceeded over to a DART train station, where I saw a small plane dragging an advertisement for refinancing your home. The DART train arrived in a few minutes and I hopped on. This was standing room only but luckily I scored a seat. Somehow that cane mythically swats people away.
The DART train deposited me at the CityPlace station. I discovered this subterranean station was near the earth’s core. I took one escalator and the next looked twice as long. My vertigo kicks in every now and then as a side effect to two surgeries on my noggin, especially on escalators. To quell this, I decided to take an elevator. This lift is an ‘incline elevator’ located between the up and down escalators. I took the ‘inclinator’ and had a birthday in the process.
Next form of transportation was the streetcar. Luckily there was one waiting for me. I noticed this is a real streetcar, not some retro fabrication or reproduction. I commented on this and the conductor offered a brief history.
This streetcar served Dallas from 1913 until 1956. In the 1980’s it was restored and back on the track in 1989.
I got off at a point where I knew the Love Field bus would stop. I noticed a glass container with a few bucks where a fare box would go. Not knowing if this is for gratuity or donations, I added one anyhow. The streetcar uses tracks that run down the middle of the road. When I disembarked, the conductor held traffic until I made it safely to the side of the road.
Again I spotted that small plane dragging a home refinancing ad. I grabbed an iced tea then the Love Field bus.
Looking to kill a few minutes, I entered the art gallery at Love. An older gentleman behind a desk asked why I walked with a cane. I told him it’s actually a pre-boarding stick since Southwest does not consider status. I browsed around for a few minutes, telling the man the real reason I walked with a cane, then decided it was time to head to the security checkpoint.
Thursday, 24 March 2005
Dallas Love to Houston Hobby
Love has one of those huge globes etched into the tile floor on the main ticketing level. I noticed there were several hundred people waiting in the security line and vigorously searched for that unmistakable silhouette of a wheelchair in a blue box to no avail. Oh well, I waited like everybody else. Somewhere around Palau, I noticed the passenger a few spaces ahead bore a striking resemblance to Senator Joe Lieberman. I eventually paraded through the shoe carnival and escaped any secondary, unlike the four passengers ahead of me.
I glanced at a departure board and saw flights headed to places like Amarillo, Lubbock, and Midland. I headed to the end of the concourse to watch activity there, not before spotting Senator Lieberman getting a shoeshine. I spent some time writing in my journal and watching a Little Rock flight go out. Behind me, there must have been a gate change announcement buried in that constant spew from the public address system because mass chaos erupted. I decided it was time to get lost.
I walked over to the gate 3-4-5 area, spotting the Spirit of Kitty Hawk taxi by for the second time that day.
As there are thirty daily departures to the Bayou City, Houston flights always operate from gates 3-4-5. Yes, that’s correct, SIXTY flights between the airport pair. A notable fact is they are roughly numbered 1 through 60, even for northbound, odd for southbound. I approached the counter to tell the agent I’m willing to volunteer if necessary. After two taps on a keyboard her eyes doubled in size and she grabbed the volunteer list.
I split the better part of forty-five minutes between looking at that day’s Morning News and watching the local news. Pre-boarding was called and I approached the counter to be met with news they were able to accommodate standbys on this flight.
I pre-boarded along with all of A and half the B boarding group as well. Apparently there were a lot of persons traveling with small children and/or needing assistance on this fight. There was a line at the jet bridge, something I have not experienced in quite a long time. I chatted with deadheading FA to work the Jackson flight.
Photo © James Richard Covington
I experienced a felling of déjà vu upon entering a Grey Poupon hued 737 with rear facing seats. Low and behold this was my friend N508SW who brought me to Dallas that morning. What are the odds? This airline consists of 400+ Boeing 737 aircraft, although a mere 25 are -500 variants. I coveted another opportunity to sit in the aft facing lounge seats. The first lounge seats were already occupied, so I went back to rows 11 and 12, where another set of lounge seats are. I noticed this was an emergency exit row. The use of my right appendage is severely limited and I am unable to assist in the (unlikely yet still possible) event of an emergency. My hopes of riding on a rear facing lounge seat instantly diminished. Oh well, some flights you win, some flights you lose, and others just get cancelled. I settled into 7A after placing my cane in the overhead bin.
Two professionally dressed men took the seats next to me. On short segments, Southwest takes drink orders prior to departure. The young lady seated in front of me ordered some wine. The FA asked if she was old enough. The more than middle aged man seated next to me ordered a beer and had to volunteer that he is of age. I ordered an apple juice. We were pushed back and the flight was underway after rotating.
The captain seemed to talk the entire flight and really should have been a weatherman. We cruised at an announced 29,000 feet and the weather in Houston was 72 degrees with a wind 15 to 20 miles per hour out of the southeast.
That sprawling metropolis on a dirty river came into view just as the last rays of the sun peaked through from the west. I had a spectacular view of light up Downtown Houston and a few baseball diamonds with players in the field passed by. I guess the boys of summer are back.
We landed and after a swift taxi, pulled into gate 10 on Concourse A, that bus station posing as an airport terminal. The flight was continuing onto Harlingen as were the two next to me. After gathering my shoulder bag from under the seat in front of me, the guy seated next to me asked if I was getting off here. I replied with an affirmative although a few days on South Padre Island sounds attractive. But Southwest Airlines may not take too kindly to that scenario.
Southwest has only ceased operations at the following four stations:
Beaumont / Port Arthur in 1980
Denver Stapleton in 1986
Detroit City in 1993
San Francisco in early 2001
Southwest IAH employees were offered jobs elsewhere in the system and those deciding to call it quits were given what the airline termed a ‘generous’ package. But losing one’s job is for yet another reality series.
On the bus ride home, I was leafing through the sports section of the Dallas Morning News. I was shocked to see a three by five inch color photo of Terri Schiavo lying on her death bed. The photo was touting that day’s commentary article about her plight. This just tells you how much life this case has taken.
Thus the day that included my farewell flight on Southwest from Bush Intercontinental Airport concluded.
[Edited 2005-04-01 00:49:42]