The Southwest Airlines NOC with screens showing airline operations
In May of this year, Southwest Airlines unveiled a new crown jewel at their Dallas Love Field headquarters: their Network Operations Control (NOC). If the employees are the heart of the airline, the brain that keeps the airline moving day in and day out is the NOC.
During Media Day, we were given a tour of the NOC — it almost felt like being in Batman’s lair.
Large models illustrating Southwest’s special liveries hang in the atrium of the company’s HQ
For years I have connected at Dallas Love Field and peered across the aircraft operations area, staring at the home of Southwest Airlines, hoping to one day visit LUV HQ. In the effort of transparency, I’ve made little attempt to conceal my preference for the airline, and we’ll discuss why I think that they’re the best in a bit. But here’s a hint: It’s the culture.
I have a hand-full of friends who work for Southwest and follow a bunch of their employees on Instagram who occasionally post photos from the inside. My desire for a visit intensified when I became aware that the company had recently opened a large addition to their Dallas footprint, just across the street from their long-standing centralized DAL-based HQ. The building, affectionately known as TOPS (for Training and Operations Support), drastically expands the company’s capabilities and makes room for employees of the largest domestic airline to spread their wings.
Southwest Airlines tail – Photo: David Parker Brown
After 12 years in corporate America, I have become a self-described boring, stodgy, business-type guy. I think that’s one of the reasons I am so attracted to Southwest’s culture. Because, it’s tough to not have a fun time around people who clearly enjoy their careers and are vested in the mission of their company.
On a recent late-night flight, an attendant came over the intercom to tell us they were turning down the lights and that we were welcome to turn on our overhead lighting. “If you want, push the button with a picture of a light bulb on it.” She continued, “However, pushing the button with the picture of a flight attendant on it will not turn on the flight attendant.”
It was late, we were all tired, and I think it’s fair to say the cabin had let their guard down. This unexpected bit of humor solicited a chuckle from me and a large portion of my 737-trekking peers. It’s these small, unexpected, fun experiences after a long draining day of meetings, charts, and presentations that I have come to rely upon as a part of my decompression ritual.
Temo Madrigal is a good friend and is a correspondent for my blog. He also is not loyal to any one airline and normally tries to find the best deal possible, especially when flying with his wife and three kids. Recently he had a flight by himself from Seattle (SEA) to Indianapolis (IND) with a layover in Minneapolis (MSP) on Delta Air Lines. I asked if he could check out the SkyClub during his four hour layover in MSP and give his honest impressions since he had never been in an airline lounge before. He agreed.
The SkyClub located at the entrance of the F and G concourses at MSP (there is another located on the C concourse) is Delta’s busiest club after Atlanta and takes up about 12,500 square feet. The club was re-done in January 2011 as part of Delta’s more than $2 billion investment in airport facilities and global products, services and technology upgrades. Here is Temo’s experience in his own words:
Delta Air Lines Boeing 757-200 at MSP. Photo by Daniel Betts.
Some of my fellow travelers like to book their flights direct with no stops. I, on the other hand am all about saving money, even if it’s a measly twenty dollars. As a stay-at-home-dad, I like to enjoy the few hours I spend alone in the sometimes-busy airport terminals. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids, but getting to read more than one chapter of a book in one sitting is a rare treat.
Recently, I was traveling to the Midwest and had a four-hour layover in Minneapolis and the Airline Reporter (aka David) asked me to check out the Delta Sky Club and provide readers with an inside look at the amenities of the club and if a one day pass (normally $50) would be worth it.
The Delta Sky Club in Minneapolis was formally the Northwest Airlines Worldclubs and is one of the oldest lounges in the Midwest. One wouldn’t be able to tell since it was first updated during the merger of Delta and Northwest in 2008 and then again January of this year.
Honestly, before seeing the Delta Sky Club, I had never actually been in an airport lounge. In my mind I had imagined dark painted walls, black ceilings, old style leather couches, and maybe even a stuffed moose head on a wall over the bar. I usually travel with a child or two in-tow, so running up and down the terminal is something that we do to tire-out our kids and help them be less of a hassle on the plane (mostly to respect our fellow travelers), and due to my vivid imagination and ideas of what an airport lounge includes, I never looked into them. This trip had definitely helped me change my mind.
A good club takes more than just a comfy place to sit -- it takes good staff and Delta delivers.
The foyer of the Delta Sky Club looked inviting and the young ladies at the reception desk welcomed me with genuine smiles and some humor. Something you might not see at every airport establishment at 6:10 AM. I was quickly asked if I had ever been to the Minneapolis club and if I needed any assistance with the services. I let them know that I had not and one representative provided me with a brief tour of the club and the amenities that are offered. I quickly realized that there was no moose head and my ideas of what I would find were completely the opposite.
The entire lounge was actually had a retro-yet-new-feel with florescent lights dimmed by blue stained glass, both the furniture and artwork were a cross between modern and art deco that gave the entire lounge a chic and upscale look and feeling. Being in the club actually made me feel as if I had entered an exclusive nightclub, but yet somehow I belonged.
Delta's SkyClub in MSP has lots of different seating options.
After the brief tour I decided to use the amenities of the lounge. First, was the men’s room and I was a little disappointed. Being that I was on a red-eye and had a full day ahead of me, I was hoping that there would be showers at this location, but there were not. I felt awkward having to brush my teeth in sinks that were directly located in front of bathroom stalls for some reason. At least the restroom was very clean, so it that wasn’t a big deal.
The good part is most people won’t spend most of their time in the bathroom. The seating areas were outstanding, with the two level lounge being open and ample. There were a variety of seat options ranging from nest style seats that provided some privacy, full reclining chairs, living room style seating arrangements with coffee tables at the center, and bar table and stool seats as well. It also featured a “quiet area” that was in a sunken nook style space in the far corner of the club with full reclining chairs.
One can sit and relax or get down to business in the SkyClub.
The business office area offered both desks with internet hook-up and telephones, as well as desks with ready-to-use desktop computers, printers and a fax machine. I was able to use the free Wi-Fi with my tablet after being helped by the reception desk. There is also satellite TV available, but if you are looking for non-electronic entertainment, you can find plenty of daily newspapers (Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times, etc.) and magazines.
The Delta Sky Club offers what Delta calls “Snacks Served All Day”. I perused the continental breakfast selections; oatmeal with the trimmings, bagels, trailmix, fresh fruits, cereal, yogurt, and a multi-selection beverage dispenser that offered coffee, tea, and hot cocoa. I’m a Seattle coffee drinker and give kudos for the strong coffee that came out of the dispenser.
There might not be a ton of food an drink options, but you can have as much as you want.
The bar was stocked with complimentary premium wines, beer and liquor. Again, there was no moose head over the bar, but there were three large plasma televisions offering both news and sports options for patrons to watch, and now that I think about it, it’s definitely better than having to stare at a dead moose head for four hours. The bar was clean, attractive, and the bartenders, Taslfalem and Sebele, were polite and very attentive. Both were able to multi-task by holding a great conversation and do their work with precision and a smile.
When heading back to Seattle and stopping at Detroit, I was offered a one-day pass to the Delta Sky Club for only $39.00. I had a four-hour layover once again and sitting with the “normal” people just didn’t seem appealing. I wanted to see the difference of how much money I would spend normally on food, drinks, etc. at the airport. I spent a total of $29.17 for an appetizer and two drinks in a bad Mexican restaurant with uncomfortable chairs. For ten dollars more (even for $20 more at the standard $50 price) I could have had the same positive experience I had in Minneapolis at the Delta Sky Club.
The bar was my favorite place. Good drinks and great conversation.
So is the cost of a day pass or even a yearly membership worth it? Well, I met a gentleman at the Sky Club Bar that mentioned he had become a member of The Delta Sky Club (formally Delta Crown Room Clubs) almost fifteen years ago because he wanted to find a better place for his kids to have a soda and relax during 2-4 hour layovers. He is a loyal member and feels that it only keeps getting better. I have to agree. It will be pretty hard for me not to have lounge access, but I do not travel enough for a yearly membership. Delta better believe they might see me a time or two using a day pass in the future, which is a big statement coming from a conservative spending guy like me.
B757 image by Daniel Betts
All others by Temo Madrigal