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MY REVIEW: Southwest Airlines Flight from Seattle to Tampa

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 sitting at Denver International Airport, waiting to take me to Tampa.

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-300 (N655WN) sitting at Denver International Airport, waiting to take me to Tampa.

Airline: Southwest Airlines
Trip: Seattle (SEA) to Denver (DEN) to Tampa (TPA)
Planes: Boeing 737-300 (N655WN) and Boeing 737-700 (N747SA)
Seats: 20F & 24A, in the back but both windows

Back on the road again. This time it was to head east to visit my father for Father’s Day. I got tickets on Southwest Airlines leaving on Thursday June 17th. I haven’t flown Southwest in quite sometime and I forgot the importance of checking in as soon as possible.

I am sure most of you know, but Southwest does not do assigned seats. Instead when you check in, up to 24 hours before take off,  you are assigned a letter (A,B or C) and a number (1-60). People are boarded by group and number where A1 goes first and C60 pretty much gets the worse seat in the house.

During check in time, I was working on covering the Boeing 787 ZA005’s first flight, so I was rightfully distracted. I could have checked in at 12:35pm, but didn’t get to it until 4:00pm. Dang it, B28. At least I didn’t get the much dreaded C group.

Passengers in Seattle seemed to have a harder time getting the Southwest boarding process than those in Denver or Tampa

Passengers in Seattle seemed to have a harder time getting the Southwest boarding process than those in Denver or Tampa

Some people LOVE the check-in game, seeing what the best letter/number combination they can get, but if you aren’t into the game and care about where you sit, you can pay a bit more to secure a seat.

You can purchase a Business Select ticket, which gets you a boarding pass in the A1-A15 range, a free drink (is free, really free if you pay more?), additional rewards credit and by-pass security lines at participating airports. If that is too rich for your blood, you can also do Early Bird check-in and pay $10 extra. Southwest will automatically check you in 12hrs before the general population, securing you a better seat. I say a “better seat” not a “guaranteed good seat” because there is no knowing what you might get. Southwest does not limit the number of people that can sign up for Early Bird check-in, so hypothetically if a lot of people pay the extra $10, you could still end up in the B-group (oh the horror). But to most the $10 is worth not having to remember to check in and making sure you don’t end up in the middle seat.

I love those winglet shots. While landing at DIA

I love those winglet shots. While landing at DEN

My father is in love with Southwest and that is pretty much all he flies. His goal is to still get the lowest number possible. Even though he doesn’t get Business Select, he sure gets the Early Bird special every time. When I told him I didn’t get the Early Bird check in and had B29 I felt he was almost going to disown me (ok, not really).

He admits it doesn’t really make sense, but he just needs the lower number. He feels special having a lower number and is embarrassed to get in the B-group. I don’t think he has ever been in the C-group. I often wonder if he did get in the C-group if he would actually take the flight or just cancel. The $10 is well worth it to him and I assume to others as well.

Through my years of flying on Southwest, the process of getting people in their A, B or C groups has changed quite a bit. Back in the day passengers wouldn’t be given numbers, just A, B or C plastic cards. People would line up hours before the flight. And I mean hours. It was like people camping out for the newest gadget or the hottest movie, just crazy. Now Southwest boarding areas have poles that tell you where you should stand based on your number and TV screens that tell you when those numbers are for A, B or C.

While coming into Tampa we hit some lightening. It was super impressive to see from the air, but hard to get photos.

While coming into Tampa we hit some lightening. It was super impressive to see from the air, but hard to get photos.

After experiencing this a few times, I have it down, but the first time I saw this new system, I was quite confused. For some reason passengers in Seattle seemed to have more problems with it than in Tampa. Even at all three airports, there were quite a few people that really had a hard time figuring it out, but we all managed to board the plane in a timely manner.

Some people really have an entitlement of their placement in line and I guess I can understand that. However, I am pretty laid back, but I seem to upset people if I have B15, yet I am standing where B17 should. I am actually letting people go in front of me, but that isn’t ok because I am messing with the system. Almost every Southwest flight there seems to be some passenger whose duty it is to make sure people are lined up perfectly.

It seems a lot of people really love the way Southwest boards the plane.  Although it is not a horrible method, I enjoy having my assigned seat. I want to know I have a window seat and I will be sitting next to my travel partner. If I get my ticket late, I know I might be in the center seat and I can prepare for that. If I have a middle seat at the front of the plane, I might check my bag, since I don’t want to risk not having the room. With Southwest, no matter what your boarding assignment might be, there is no guarantee for where I will be sitting and I don’t like that.

Even though I feel I am being jipped in some way, it all worked out. Even though with all four legs I had bad seating numbers (from B15 to B49) I was always able to sit next to my girlfriend and I got a window seat. I spoke with Brad Hawkins, a Southwest communications person, over the phone to see if Southwest was looking at ever going to assigned seats. He told me that they never say never, but when they last asked passengers what they wanted 2:1 wanted to keep the open seating, but quite a few voiced concerns about the boarding process. That is when Southwest started their pole boarding, making it a little more organized.

Boarding in this method, also provides them with additional revenue, which lets them keep prices lower and not charge the fees we see popping up with other airlines. It would also cost Southwest additional money, to set up a seat assignment system, against raising fares. No matter what you opinion is, it looks like open seating will be around for quite some time.

It is not just peanuts anymore. Those tomato wheat thins were amazing.

It is not just peanuts anymore. Those tomato wheat thins were amazing.

After going through the line up process, passengers started to back up in the jetway. The captain from the SEA-DEN leg came out and was talking to us. He ended up talking to me about what turbulence we could expect from SEA to DEN and why. It was pretty awesome he was out there. Those sort of things are what make the Southwest employees well known for their customer service and I always wonder why more airlines don’t encourage the pilot/customer interaction that Southwest pilots seem to have (plus I always love the ties they wear).

So, not only do I like to get a window seat, but one where I can easily get those winglet photos. You know those ones right? Photos with the airline’s logo/name on the winglet with other stuff in the background. They are extremely common, but dang it, I like to take them.

Not 100% sure where this was, but this is one of the reasons I make sure I have the window seat.

Not 100% sure where this was, but this is one of the reasons I make sure I have the window seat.

The gate location of the plane from SEA to DEN was hidden and I wasn’t able to check out what model it was (well duh on a 737, but what hundred?). When I got on the plane, I could easily tell it was an older Boeing 737. The seats looked brand new, it was very clean, but the aged bins, stark white walls and old lights and air vents gave it away. Sure enough it was a classic Boeing 737-300.

On both legs to Tampa, flight attendants told passengers the flight would be completely full and make sure to share. They made multiple statements to the fact that no one will be sitting with an empty seat, so be sure not to try to save it (each announcement was done in a friendly and fun manner). However, both the flights had quite a few empty seats (lucky to get empty middle seat from DEN to TPA, but in VERY last row). Maybe the flight was booked, but not all passengers made it or maybe it is a good motivator for people to share and get seated as soon as possible. Either way, not a big deal, but I have found when other airlines say it will be a 100% full flight, it is.

Unfortunately none of my flights had wireless internet. Southwest is currently installing Row44 on to their entire fleet. If I have internet access, I could care less what seating letter/number I have, but I will have to wait a little bit longer, but it will be happening.

Not that long ago Southwest was known as the “no-frills” airline. Yet now, they seem to be the “frills airline.” When others are charging for checked bags, carry-ons, getting an exit row, etc Southwest is doing what they always have been doing, providing cheap and friendly transportation to destinations around the United States. They have a very loyal following (including my father) and I think they really build a strong and positive relationship with most passengers. I look forward to flying with them again, but I will remember to check in a bit earlier next time or maybe even shell out the extra $10.

Additional photos of the trip.

24 comments to MY REVIEW: Southwest Airlines Flight from Seattle to Tampa

  • robby

    I love SWA and get the EB boarding if traveling far(FLL-BOI)
    However, SWA is no longer an inexpensive airline as their fares have gotten quite high this summer.
    The one problem with EB is when connecting to a thru flight, you may still get on a plane with 50 or more people already on board, if that is the case, the best seats are definitely gone (exit rows/bulkheads)
    I did purchase a Business Select to fly for my mother’s funeral and needed a flexible fare. In all legs I was A-1. But again, there might be 15 pre-boards before you taking up all of the prime bulkhead seats.
    At the end of the day, SWA employees are great and have a friendly attitude, and in turn, the passengers are nice too.
    I wouldn’t mind an assigned seat, but SWA is a different airline and I will continue to fly them.
    Love the special paint jobs too, Arizona One, New Mexico One, Florida One are the best.

    • Hey Robby,

      That is a good point. There really is no guarantee where you will be sitting. However getting the early bird, at least increases your options. Flying mostly out of Seattle I find that most planes are empty when I get on, so it makes it easier. But when stopping in Denver or Houston, the plane already has people in it.

      Also I forgot to mention the liveries! They do a great job of providing unique and fun liveries.

      David

  • DavidBrown(REALLY)

    I’m different. I hate to fly SWA. It’s absolutely the last airline I’ll fly and I’ll pay 3 or 4 times the price to avoid flying them and have done it numerous times. I refuse to accept that in this day and age you can’t have a seat assignment which virtually guarantees me a seat. While I’ve never been bumped from a flight I just like having that number and having a choice. Having to fly out of CMH means choices are somewhat limited for bigger planes and I still won’t use them which means I’m crammed in a RJ until I reach a hub city. It’s ok. I don’t have to listen to the singing flight attendants and other “fun” stuff they do. My wife and kids fly to Chicago several times a year on SWA, but I skip the trip to miss them. The 3 or 4 times I’ve flown them I’ve been split up from my group with seat mates that just made life miserable. SWA could fix it, but the don’t so they miss out on 20-30 flights a year with me. Their loss.

    Those circles seen from the window are farm fields with an irrigation system that has a center point and spins around. Thus making it a circle. I always pick a window seat except for trans-con on a 757 or 737 with 3 abreast seating. I love to watch the scenery go past.

    • You know with talking to people about Southwest more with this blog I am finding people either absolutely love them or really hate them. People seem to be much more polar with them than with other airlines. Still trying to figure out why that is the case.

      And even though I would prefer an assigned seat and I complained to my girlfriend that I messed up and got in the B-group, she quickly pointed out that on all four legs (with our flights back too), we were able to sit together, I got a window seat and on two of the legs we got a whole row to ourselves.

      I remember when Southwest would have the two rows facing each other, which worked out GREAT for families, but were really annoying if they were all strangers.

      David

  • Temo

    I have refused to fly on SWA airlines for the last 5 years after one bad experience. However, I can’t even remember why I was so angry. Maybe it is time to give them another chance. I am flying to Indiana this summer and if they are in the price range, I will give it a go.

    I don’t really like the pleather seats though. My legs are short and can’t reach the ground and I slip off them. Maybe they should add velcro.

    Great review by the way!

    • Hey Temo!

      You are lucky if you are a bit shorter, means you have more leg room for each flight :). I try not to hold one bad experience on a flight against the entire airline, but I will on how they react to it. It takes a lot to get me to complain and if they apologize, normally that is good enough for me.

      David

  • kpaske

    Wow, I’m glad I haven’t flown SWA recently. I actually don’t discriminate much when it comes to choosing an airline – I know some provide better service than others (I’ve always loved ANA for trans-pacific and Virgin for trans-atlantic), but I’m usually traveling on a budget and have preferred departure and arrival timeframes, so I take whatever fits my needs the best at the time.

    Call me old fashioned, but all these budget saving measures are a bunch of nonsense to me. I would be very annoyed if I couldn’t get an assigned seat on anything but the smallest of aircraft (where it really doesn’t matter). Paying for checked baggage, wi-fi, and in-flight beverages? All of this stuff should be included in the price of my ticket. I can understand certain charges for exceptional situations, but your average passenger on an average flight should have a good idea of what to expect on every airline. If SWA or another airline wants to market themselves as a no-frills airline, their ticket prices should be notably less, and it should be made apparent that the level of service isn’t going to be what you would expect on other airlines.

    At least I know not to buy tickets on SWA now. What other airlines have gone to this open seating nonsense?

    • But Southwest has been sticking to no fees. No checked bag fees, no fees on food (b/c they don’t have any food), etc. You can check or carry-on bags with no charges, which is really nice. Their fare might look a bit higher when compared to other airlines at first glance, but if you add checked bag fees, it ends up being cheaper to fly SWA in some cases.

      A few European airlines that I know of do the open seating. Like I said in the blog, lots of people love it and even Southwest says their research shows 2:1 like the open seating.

      I think most people know what to expect with Southwest. However on my leg from DIA to SEA there were two passengers who weren’t getting the open seating concept. They kept asking where their seats where.

      David

  • I’ve only flown with southwest for one trip. The boarding method was a bit strange to me at first, but I think any person with half of a brain can figure it out. I do like being able to know where my seat is ahead of time, but on my 2 flights using southwest I always got a good seat (similar to your experience). If it allows them to keep their costs low it seems like a fantastic business decision to me.

    • Hello Josh!

      That seems to be what most passengers care about — get me the cheapest fare possible. If I can save $50 on a 2hr flight, I don’t care how we board, just as long as I get there.

      David

      • Well it is about more than just money. If I am going to get a terrible flight in terms of service/seating/etc then I think most are willing to pay a little bit more. You are correct though, the different ways of boarding are not so different that they play a factor in my decision.

  • Jessica

    I don’t mind the concept SWA uses to board, I just want a seat that allows enough room for my long legs and hope I’m not behind, next to or in front of some asshole. However, I hate the mentality it gives the anticipating riders… most everyone is on edge vying for their perfect seat. Maybe they could do it better, maybe not. I do have to say I’ve flown several different airlines the past year or so and Virgin is by far my favorite.

  • Tiffany

    It’s been a few years since I’ve flown Southwest, but I’ll admit that they’re still one of the first websites I check for ticket pricing. Their customer service hasn’t ever been an issue for me; I have only pleasant memories of their in-flight staff. It’s been long enough that I don’t recall the way the seating worked, but I’m the customer in the corner waiting for everyone else to board so I can spend the absolute least amount of time possible on the plane before take off. Besides, I enjoy the several off-the-wall conversations I’ve had with strangers on airplanes :) (A woman on a SW flight once told me about a time in the 70’s when she snuck a rabbit onto the plane under her fur coat). No complaints here!

  • Mike

    Had to fly from OAK to PHX earlier this year and had a choice of US Airways/Mesa where I could have the privilege of picking my seat or Southwest. Having spent a couple hours on a Mesa CRJ last year, it was an easy decision to take a Southwest 737 (-700 out, -300 back) even though I ended up in the “dreaded” B group both ways. No matter, got window seats around mid-plane and all was fine.

  • Denver Dan

    FYI – The code for DENVER is “DEN” not “DIA” which at one point in time was for Dulles International Airport…

    • Yea…the fine folks at Denver International Airport told me they use both back and forth. However the IATA code is DEN and they even said they normally use DEN for official stuff.

      I just preferred using DIA, I don’t know why. However, I am going to change them all to DEN.

      Thanks for pointing it out!

      David

  • Ben

    I never got the appeal of this airline. Sure it may be a little less expensive. But to have any chance of a decent seat you have to get to the airport way ahead of time or at least check in ahead of time. Then instead of sitting around comfortably and getting in line when you feel like it, cause you have an assigned seat, you have line up like a heard of cattle.

    No thanks.

  • jennywa

    One advantage of SW is that if you’re in the middle of the pack, you can pick who you sit next to-no screaming kids…

  • [...] Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for another adventure (I love their free Wi-Fi). Last weekend I was able to fly on a personal trip, but today’s trip is for the blog. Virgin America has recently announced new flights from [...]

  • David, I just flew today MDW-SMF and flew outbound last Thursday SMF-MDW. (Southwest operates one very conveniently timed nonstop flight each direction in the SMF-MDW market.) I think it was my first trip on Southwest in nearly 10 years. My opinion has changed dramatically since then as I’ve seen them become in many ways the “full-service” airline. Yes, in general I would prefer an assigned seat but the system they have now works well and I saw no confusion among passengers.

    After shelling out $50 to United a month ago to fly my bags to and from Las Vegas it was welcome respite from bag fees.

    Two anecdotal observations.
    – the woman seated next to me told me she chose Southwest specifically because she wouldn’t have to pay for bags
    – on both flights (100% full outbound and maybe 92% full on the return) there wasn’t ANY of the nonsense you see now on other airlines with the poor flight attendants having to play overhead bin police. There was lots of room in the bins both ways. Happy business travelers who don’t like to check bags and happy leisure passengers who have no problem with it. Bags in both MDW and SMF were delivered in a reasonable period of time.

    Check-in both at SMF and MDW was fast and confusion-free, despite there being plenty of passengers. Why? Because Southwest had adequate staff at every step of the way.

    Great flight attendants on both flights. Friendly and efficient. The one thing that was much different from your experience is that the pilots on the SMF-MDW flight did not utter one word over the PA system the entire flight. And on the return MDW-SMF today there were one or two sentences prior to the take-off and a rather terse warning to pass your trash to the flight attendants close to the end of the flight. The pilots did a great job at what they do best (and that’s obviously the most important thing) but they were zeroes as far as representing Southwest to the public.

    While my first pick will remain Alaska/Horizon, and United a grudging second for the convenience it offers out of the small northern California city where I live, I won’t ever hesitate to use Southwest out of SMF if their schedule is best.

    • Hey Greg!

      Thank you so much for your comments. Getting people boarded quickly was something I noticed too. Since it doesn’t cost anything to check your bag, most people do it and have no carry-ons to slow things down.

      It was weird I only saw the confusion in Seattle about boarding process. Talking to other people, seems like most people getting the boarding process and I was just an “above average” group of passengers :).

      David

  • [...] Last time I flew Southwest, I slacked and ended up in the B-group. However this time I was vigilant and got in to the much coveted A-group. Window seat, here I come! Share: [...]

  • [...] Last time I flew Southwest, I slacked and ended up in the B-group. However this time I was vigilant and got in to the much coveted A-group. Window seat, here I come! [...]

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