Today my wife and I are boarding a Southwest 737-700 and flew from Boston through Chicago Midway and onto Salt Lake City for the weekend to attend the Sundance Film Festival (of which Southwest Airlines is a major corporate sponsor). I have only flown Southwest Airlines twice in the past, both times were direct flights less than an hour and were a few years ago (before my points/status chasing began). We arrives at Terminal E at Boston Logan Airport about an hour before our flight. We had our boarding passes with good seating numbers (A28 & A31) as we paid $10 each for Early Bird Check-In. This service assigned us seating numbers 36 hours before departure so that we wouldn’t have to worry about getting a low boarding number when on-line check-in opened at 24 hours before departure and could then check-in worry free anytime before the flight and know we would be some of the first people to board (behind the elite Southwest A-listers).
At the airport my wife decided that she didn’t want to carry her bag on and decided to check it as Southwest has free bag checks. There was no line and this only took a minute and was very easy. We then proceeded to the security checkpoint. At Terminal E, Southwest has its own security for the 5 gates it occupies so there was not a long line to get through. The TSA agents were friendly and everyone ahead of me knew the routine with no one holding up the line. Through security we got some coffee and scones and filled our water bottles up. The gate area in Terminal E looks recently renovated with lots of nice leather seating and work areas with plenty of outlets to plug in electronic devices.
About 30 minutes before departure they announced that boarding would begin soon and to line up based on your boarding number. They gave instructions on how to proceed for those not familiar with how Southwest boards their aircraft. Compared to the “gate lice” that occurs with legacy carriers with assigned seating and zone boarding this cueing up seemed pretty civilizedalised. They started the boarding process and after scanning our boarding passes, collected them as we entered the jetway. On the aircraft people made their way on, choosing the seats they wanted, stowing their carry-on bags that they didn’t check, and getting out of the aisle for those behind to get to their seats. As we were traveling as a party of two and Southwest has a 3×3 seating on their aircraft, I figured the best chance to have a middle seat be unoccupied was to move about halfway back in the airplane a couple of rows behind the exit rows and occupy the aisle and window seats and hope that another individual doesn’t take the middle seat. As it turns out the load on this flight was light and there were many middle seats open as well as a few empty rows in the back of the plane. There were even exit row seats that went empty.
The 3 flight attendants on board were very friendly, with the lead flight attendant being a nice middle-aged southern woman that just come across as very welcoming, warm, and friendly. Boarding completed about 10 minutes before the scheduled departure time and I think we pushed back from the gate a few minutes early. While Southwest is known for some unique safety demonstrations from some of their flight attendants (search YouTube to see some of them), todays safety briefing was very vanilla but not strict and unfriendly as you might get from some legacy airline flight attendants. After a quick taxi we took off right away, had a smooth climb, and made our way to Chicago Midway.
Service began shortly after our initial assent. They announced that this was a wi-fi equipped plane and that information on how to log on and pricing was in the back of their “Spirit” magazine. I took a look at the pricing and saw that it was an introductory price of $5 and that allowed you to get online all the way until your final destination, even if you have a connection. Southwest is currently in the process of installing wi-fi on all of their aircraft. I debated giving the service a try, but decided against it as I enjoy my time at 27,000 feet up in the clouds, being disconnected from the cloud. The flight attendants came around to take drink orders (I ordered a cran-apple juice) and then came around with snacks. Today they were giving everyone a bag of lightly salted nuts and a bad of Nabisco cinnamon roll thin crisps. As I purchased a scone and coffee in the terminal, I kept these snacks for later. Shortly after they came through with our drinks.
The rest of the flight was without incident and we landed at Chicago Midway on-time. When we pulled up to the gate the instructed the people continuing onto Salt Lake City to stay on the plane. Once the rest of the passengers got off they counted those of us who remained to make sure they had the right amount of people continuing through. Once that happened they welcomed anyone who wanted to change seats that they could do so. I saw that there was an exit row that contained only two seats. I debated switching right away but went up to ask the flight attendant about how full the flight would be to SLC. She said it was a completely full flight. I knew my strategy of securing an empty middle seat like we had from BOS-MDW would not be successful so I waved to my wife to switch to the exit row before anyone else could change their mind. We got the two seats together and settled in. Boarding went smoothly and another on-time departure from MDW on our way to SLC. This flight has similar service as the flight from Boston and was otherwise uneventful. We landed at Salt Lake City a little early due to light headwinds, deplaned, got my wife’s bag form baggage claim, and headed off to the Sundance Film Festival.
The return flights to Boston via Chicago Midway were very similar as the outbound portion of travel so I will forgo a detailed report except to talk about the layover we had at Chicago Midway. When we got to the gate at MDW, they asked those continuing onto Boston to stay on the plane so they could get a head count. Once that was done they said we could get off the plane as we had arrived much earlier than scheduled. We just had to be back onto the plane 15 minutes before regular boarding was to commence or we would have to wait to board with the rest of the passengers. This allowed me and my wife to get off the plane, stretch our legs, and get some food in the terminal before continuing on our journey.
In conclusion I was very impressed with Southwest Airlines, the product they offer, and the people they have working for them. I can fully understand why so many travelers like flying them (including my in-laws). They have a no-nonsense yet comfortable domestic US economy product, no fees for changing flights and checking bags, and a very orderly boarding process. For travelers that are not flying enough to gain status (getting upgrades, priority boarding, and other perks) or do not have intentions of using their frequent flyer miles for aspirational Business/First class travel around the globe, then I would tell them to highly consider flying Southwest if works for their travels. (A side note, while Southwest is a Low Cost Carrier, they do not always have the lowest fares, so it is still important to do your research or use My Trip Geek to do the work for you.) Now with their merger with Air Tran, it looks like Southwest will start flying to popular international destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean and to Hawaii with their ETOPS certified Boeing 737-800′s that they are currently taking delivery on. Would I look to fly Southwest again on a regular basis, probably not for any travel as I am a loyal Star Alliance flyer. However, if I needed to get somewhere domestically and their flight schedule was way more convent for what I was looking for than I could get with Star Alliance (ex this trip to the Sundance Film Festival) then I would certainly fly them again.