When I wanted to get between Seattle (SEA) and San Jose (SJC) via a direct flight, I didn’t have too many choices. I could have either flown on Alaska or Southwest Airlines. Since I had never flown Southwest before, I decided to give it a try and tick a new airline off my list.
The whole experience began the day before my flight when it was time to check in. I had read a few guides (although not the one written by the founder of this very website — oops) on how to deal with a Southwest flight.
Southwest, unlike any airline I had ever flown before, does not assign seating — it is a “Free for all”. Your ticket simply lists your boarding group (A, B or C) and a number which is your place in line. When you get on-board you are free to sit wherever you want.
The first 15 in the A group are reserved for Southwest’s frequent flyers or “A listers”. Some fare classes and those who pay for automatic early check-in [aka EarlyBird] snag the majority of the A group. The first 60 guests get the A group, the next 60 get B and whatever is leftover gets C. You obviously don’t want to be in the C group, if you don’t like middle seats. I luckily scored an A group ticket — game on.
MY SOUTHWEST AIRLINES FLIGHT REVIEW
Airports: Seattle [SEA] to San Jose [SJC]
Aircraft: Boeing 737-300 (N394SW)
Not too much happened between checking in and getting to the airport. When I arrived, thankfully the ticket counter queues were non existent. I was quickly helped to check-in my two bags (which were free) and was even given a boarding pass wallet to hold my baggage receipt (a rarity these days).
I had plenty of time but security was a zoo! I had no status with Southwest, but really did not want to be waiting in that line. Luckily I was able to flash my Star Gold Card and head through the much shorter premium line — a reward for being a frequent flier.
Heading to the gate, I was able to check on TripIt & Flightaware to see that my flight was running about 30 minutes late. It was toss up on how to spend my extra time: working or relaxing.
How about both? Southwest offers some pretty comfy seats by their gates at SeaTac where you can either chill out or work with the power outlet at the same seats — seemed a good score to me.
I knew that when the inbound aircraft finally arrived, that the unique Southwest experience would begin. The boarding groups were asked to line up (in order) and the airline provides some nice metal poles to help with referencing. Everyone seemed to know what they were doing and I was kind of along for the ride.
Either the people on my flight were all Southwest regulars or had done their research beforehand. When they called my group to board, I was instantly devastated the moment I was scanned through and they kept my boarding pass. As a frequent flier I always keep my boarding pass as pristine as possible, mainly because you never know if you are going to have to retroactively claim for points. Plus I am an AvGeek and it is always a great memento of a special flight.
With free seating aboard, there are numerous plans you can make and everyone probably has their own method. My method that day (since it was probably going to be a full flight) was when I saw the first open window seat — sit in it.
When boarding, I saw that Row 4 had an empty window seat, but someone in the aisle. That passenger was probably thinking she could hold off having other people in the row as they would just keep on going. Their plan may work at times, but not that day. I snagged myself 4A.
Looking at the seating and overhead bin space you could definitely see this was a Boeing 737 of the “Classic” variety. Being a 300 series meant that it had the original overhead bins and lighting/air controls. The legroom (with 32-33″ pitch on most aircraft) was pretty good and much more comfortable than I had expected.
After takeoff and climb out, I spent a good 20 minutes taking photos. This became my entertainment for a while, since the plane had no in-flight entertainment (IFE). Many of Southwest’s 737s are fitted with Row 44 WiFi, but not mine. It was okay, since I was content with a book, my camera, some music and disconnecting from the world for a couple of hours. Soon, the on board service began and it was handled a little bit differently than what I was expecting.
Most airlines serve their beverages using a cart, but not Southwest. At first, flight attendants came to each person and asked what they would like to drink. Next Southwest’s iconic Honey Roasted Peanuts were distributed. I am not normally a fan of flavored nuts, (I am a natural, raw kind of person), but when on Southwest, you have to try them out. They were just that little bit sweet, but still had a good hint of salt.
Then finally, the drinks were delivered by the crew. Tray service for drinks means that they do not have to double check who ordered which drink. That little bit of extra service really made it feel different compared to other airlines.
The rest of the flight was pretty non eventful — which is not a bad thing. I had been given a tip for the San Jose approach to sit on the left side when coming from the north for great views of San Francisco. The view and the sunset did not disappoint.
The flight touched down (albeit late) and the last new experience for me happened. The flight was continuing on to Burbank after the brief stop and the crew advised those guests continuing on to stay in their seats to be counted and then they could move around. I had never flown an airline before that didn’t kick everyone off the flight first!
So what were the eventual impressions of my first time on Southwest? Well as someone who is a big loyalty program fan and holds elite status with other airlines, I won’t be trading off to Southwest anytime soon. However, it’s not because I didn’t enjoy the flight or the crew’s bubbly personalities, but more that my loyalty is committed for another year at least.
I did like the more personalized drink service and being able to check my bags for free . However to have my boarding pass taken frin me, as an AvGeek that digs deep. Yes, I realize that most other passengers wouldn’t care too much that.
Would that hold me back from flying Southwest again in the future? Nope. If the price was right and the timing fit what was needed, then I wouldn’t hesitate flying Southwest again — just as long as I get my window seat.
NOTE: My flight on Southwest was covered by ANA as part of the ANA Ambassador Program. All opinions are my own.
|Malcolm Muir, Lead Correspondent. Mal is an Australian Avgeek now living and working in Seattle. With a passion for aircraft photography, traveling and the fun that combining the two can bring. Insights into the aviation world with a bit of a perspective thanks to working in the travel industry. @BigMalX | BigMal’s World | Photos|