Southwest Airlines is a carrier I LUV to hate. They are the nation’s largest airline by passenger volume and have a huge route network throughout the United States and earlier this year Mexico and the Caribbean. They serve 96 cities in 41 states and have over 3,600 departures per day. Overall this is just incredible, but the Greyhound of the skies is just not my carrier of choice, but when push comes to shove I have to suck it up and get in line like all the other cattle.
My issue with Southwest is their overall culture and how they do things. As a company they are entitled to their own philosophical process, they are a business. They have quirky flight attendants who usually have a fun time with the safety demonstration. I recall a flight where the flight attendant sang it with the cadence of the “Brady Bunch”. Sure clever, but really is that necessary? Additionally what bugs me is their boarding process, I just hate the fact that you don’t get a seat assignment, what? I don’t mean that you have to pay to get a seat assignment, I mean that you just don’t get one. It’s called “open seating”, what a novel concept. For those of you that have not ever flown on Southwest, consider yourself lucky. But seriously though, do you live under a rock? How could anyone not fly these guys at least once. “Open seating”, means that you get on the plane find an open seat and take it. There’s nothing close to first class, business class or some form of extra legroom seats. They are all the same for the most part, so you just look at a stranger you may want to sit by, stow your bags and cop a squat.
Besides this open seating concept you have the cattle call to get your boarding pass. Unlike any other US airline, you get a boarding pass with a line up number not a seat assignment. They have three boarding groups A-C and then two sub-groups per boarding group 1-30 and 31-60. In general these passes are issued in sequential order based on when you check in. So the concept of checking in at exactly 24 hours is quite important, if you care about picking your seat instead of your seat picking you. Now there are ways to get an advantage, if you’re an A-List frequent flier (100 one-ways) per year, a business select ticket holder (full fare) or you pay $12 per ticket for auto check in. Lastly you can take the freeway and sit online T minutes 24 hours and do your best to get an A group seat. In my experience if you literally don’t check in within the first five minutes of 24 hours you get group B. Ouch.
I love to hate these guys, because they sometimes are just the best option to hop up and down the West coast. And for a guy that wants to have useful miles to redeem, get free upgrades to first class and fly like a king on vacation for free, Southwest just doesn’t work for me. From the Bay Area they fly from all four major airports and cover Burbank, LAX, Orange County, Ontario and San Diego in the southern part of the state. Between these eight city pairs there are over 150 non-stop flights per day. They just have California, Oregon and Washington covered. So for me an avid lover of American Airlines, Alaska and former friend of United, flying Southwest is always my fourth choice, but when they offer so many options I sometimes just have no choice. Which means I then need to do the check in dance, deal with the cattle call line up plus find a nice neighbor to sit by once I get on the plane. Another blogger likened the process of finding a seat on Southwest to the new kid in school trying to find a seat in the cafeteria and nobody wanting the kid to sit next to them. It’s exactly how I feel every time I fly them.
Southwest is not my choice of airline but obviously they are for many others since they are the top passenger airline in the US, not to be mixed up with the world’s largest airline by worldwide passenger count currently American/US Airlines. They do have some good policies and I feel I should mention them. They offer no fee cancellations, with one year to redeem your credit and two free checked bags per person.
So overall having to fly Southwest is my own personal hell, but hey sometimes you just have to swallow your pride and suck it up and fly “LUV” (their stock ticker symbol).