Aviation enthusiasts pose with a Virgin Atlantic A340 – Photo: Daniel Palen
As an avid plane spotter, I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with the curious/uninformed public, skeptic law enforcement officers (LEOs), airport staff, and even airline employees. Typically these exchanges go positively and, with luck, without missing out on any good shots: “Who are you? What are you doing? Why are you taking photos in a post-9/11 world?” To which I respond: JL Johnson, frequent traveler, airline reporter, and, most importantly: AvGeek.
Typically I tell them about my passion and how [whatever organization they represent] is generally supportive (or at least tolerant) of such activity. It’s not uncommon that I pull out an iDevice and show the inquirer samples of my work and/or tweets endorsing or acknowledging spotting from various institutions (I keep a list of tweets handy for this very reason – you should too).
While doing homework on the environment in advance of spotting is key, I find that the more geeky and passionate I make the conversation the quicker a situation is defused. Apparently geeks can’t be bad guys. For whatever reason, people respond better not to fact, but passion/emotion. So I bring both.
Plane spotting – even toddlers do it! Photo: JL Johnson
That’s the typical interaction. Alas, my attempts to convince folks that I’m not a terrorist and that my telephoto lens doesn’t shoot plane-crippling ray-gun beams are not always successful. I had one such interaction recently at Chicago’s Midway Airport (MDW) which I’d like to detail if only to clear the air about what’s generally allowed vs. not, how to handle these encounters, and to assure my AvGeek brethren that it’s typically OK to take photos of publicly-visible property from public areas. But…your results may vary.
Midway Airport just doesn’t get the love it deserves. Whenever there’s discussion of plane spotting in Chicago, it’s always assumed that O’Hare is the venue, and that’s just not right. Sure, as a dedicated Southwest Airlines A-Lister, Midway is the one-and-only Chicago airport that’s deserving of my regular (and frequent) business. But setting loyalties aside for a moment, the spotting at Midway is quite simply excellent for any and all, even the hard-to-please “legacy lovers” who stalk United and American at ORD.
Why? Well, the opportunity for incredible photos like the one above should be enough, but if you aren’t convinced, read further…
Southwest's new Boeing 737-800 sits next to a 737-700 at FLL. Photo by Butch Brown.
The relationship between Southwest Airlines and the Boeing 737 has gone back a long way. Recently, Southwest took delivery of their first Boeing 737-800. For the average person this might be a non-event. For those who realize that previously the airline only operated the smaller aircraft, this is an event worth celebrating. The 800 will allow the airline to operate more capacity on routes and the ETOPS certification will allow the 737-800 to take on destinations, like Hawaii. On the 800’s inaugural flight from Chicago Midway Airport (MDW) to Fort Lauderdale (FLL) my father was able to join along.
My dad, Butch Brown, is a huge Southwest Airlines fan (I think if he ever got a “B” boarding pass he would be so ashamed), so it made sense for him to check out the new plane, with the Boeing Sky Interior. Here is his report in his own words:
Folks from Southwest Airlines, AvGeeks and media get ready to board. That is my father in the black sweater. Photo from Southwest.
The technical facts on the new aircraft are well know: 28% more passengers, quieter and more spacious cabin, larger improved overhead storage bins, durable and comfortable seats, and of course the LED (light emitting diodes) that can portray different color schemes like a soft blue sky and a relaxing pallet of sunset colors. I was anxious to see for myself if these new innovations in look and feel will make a significant difference in my flying enjoyment.
I woke up at 4:30 am with great anticipation of my flight on Southwest’s new Boeing 737-800. This particular aircraft was dedicated and named “Warrior One” in salute of the Southwest Employees’ Warrior Spirit that reflects a “can-do” attitude. My flight aboard “Warrior One” from Chicago’s Midway Airport to Fort Lauderdale was the the aircraft’s maiden scheduled flight. It was to be a day of celebration.
The 737-800 will have mini-beverage carts. The Sky Interior has new buttons and LED lighting.
Arriving at the Midway Airport departure gate for Warrior One was a scene made for a party: balloons, roulette game for passenger prizes, special breakfast treats and drinks, cheers from enthusiastic passengers and the opportunity to have your photo taken with “Little Miss 737”. On board the festivities continued with a raffle for prizes ranging from Warrior One ball caps to a free flight on Southwest Airlines.
There was a similar scene when we arrived at the Fort Lauderdale Airport. There was a water cannon salute as we taxied to our gate, followed by a walk through a forest of balloons and rousing applause and cheers from Southwest staff and departing passengers at the arrival gate. This was a very memorable flight indeed.
Now, to answer the question I originally posed before the flight, “am I a fan of the Sky Interior and Southwest’s new 737-800?”
Warrior One sits in Fort Lauderdale.
The volume of living space has increased with the sky interior and it is notable. Sculpted ceiling, sloping storage bins, and reshaped window recesses make the cabin appear larger and add to the feel of spaciousness. These literally change your perspective on the real estate airline travelers call home for long periods of time. The Sky Interior has a way of making the narrow body 737 feel almost like a wide body.
I was a little skeptical with the new seats having less seat pitch, but the seat pockets have been moved upwards providing an increase in knee room, and life vests have been moved to the overhead so both legs fit comfortably under the seat in front of you.
Pivoted overhead bins means passengers don’t have to bend to prevent bumping their heads as they leave their seats. Another feature that passengers (and flight attendants) will appreciate are the intuitive placement of switches and call buttons. The reading-light switches and flight-attendant call button are easily identifiable and make it much less likely to accidentally press the flight-attendant call button.
Now this is how you do a cake!
Flying on Warrior One made you almost forget you were flying on a Southwest flight, but in a good way. The one factor that remains constant with Southwest and brought back the reality that this was indeed a Southwest flight was flight-attendants’ impeccable customer service. I have been on other Boeing 737-800s flying with other carriers, but what really made this one unique was the “Warrior One” Southwest Airlines crew. Am I a fan? Absolutely! How can one not be with this combination of new plane, great service and oh yes, bags still fly for free.
More Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-800 Good Stuff
* Video, words and photos from Southwest’s blog
* More Photos via NYCAviation.com