Greetings, and apologies for the paucity of posts the last couple of weeks. I haven’t been dealing with any important life events like Brad, but did have a personal family favor to attend to. My mom wanted to head to Ft. Myers, Florida for a couple of months to stay with my sister, and being the good son that I am, offered to drive her out there from Dallas, since she wanted to take her cat Bevo with her. Why not fly to Ft. Myers, you might ask? Well, Bevo doesn’t exactly behave very well in cages or other confined spaces, and we decided the two of us would much rather be miserable for 1,200 miles than subject a plane full of passengers to a screaming cat for 3 hours if the tranquilizer didn’t work properly.
So why Southwest for this one-way trip back home after dropping her and the cat off? One, they were the cheapest option, which was important in this case. Second, I had a sheet of Southwest drink coupons. I love driving, and I love cats, but the idea of doing both together for 19 hours had me thinking that I’d REALLY need a couple of drinks on the way home. (As it turned out, Bevo didn’t behave THAT badly, after the first hour and a half or so – aside from repeatedly doing 10-100 in the middle row of mom’s minivan, which left a, shall we say, fine aroma to deal with. Bonus points to anyone that can name the movie I ripped “10-100” off of.)
Southwest Airlines (WN) Flight 2771
- August 25, 2014
- Depart: Fort Myers (RSW) Gate B2, 11:45, 5m early
- Arrive: St. Louis (STL) Gate E20, 13:01, 19m early
- Seat: 3A
- Equipment: Boeing 737-700
One of the problems with flying Southwest to/from Dallas, at least for the next month or so, is the need to connect somewhere within the Wright Amendment perimeter first (currently Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and New Mexico). In this case, I’d have to fly to St. Louis first, then head back southwest (no pun intended) to Dallas. Boy will I be glad once LUV is finally set free on October 13th…
Anyway, Southwest Florida International Airport in Ft. Myers is convenient and easy to get to; security lines are rarely very long, as separate security checkpoints are provided for every two concourses (there are four concourses, A, B, C, and D, in total). But the terminal is pretty ghetto. All you’ll find are a Starbucks, a couple of chain restaurants, and a store to buy Florida souvenirs at probably double the price you could in town. They don’t even have the comfy lounge chairs with power outlets that Southwest has installed at most of its other stations.
Our incoming flight from BWI landed early, boarding started a couple of minutes early, and it looked like we’d be on time. Southwest has had some serious problems with on-time performance lately, so I was relieved to see there would be no issues with this flight – something that would prove to be very, very critical later on. Despite checking in exactly 24 hours in advance, I was only able to get a “B” boarding card. Luckily it was slot 1, so not too bad, and it saved me the $12.50 fee for Early Bird check-in. Much to my (pleasant) surprise, a window seat was available in Row 3, so I grabbed it. A few minutes before we were scheduled to push back, a soon to be extinct bird, an AirTran Boeing 717, pulled up at the gate next to ours, and I was happy to have a window seat to grab a shot.
We pushed back about 5 minutes early, and in typical Southwest fashion, the pilots went “cowboy style” on us and hit the gas halfway through the turn to line up with the runway. Shortly after liftoff, the FA came through and took drink orders; it would be a Jack and Coke for me courtesy of one of my drink coupons. We then settled in for a quiet flight to St. Louis.
The suburbs on the east side of Ft. Myers
Up close and personal with a cumulus cloud
Crossing the Florida coastline, somewhere in the vicinity of New Port Richey
Tennessee River over northern Alabama
Big Muddy to the southeast of St. Louis
This plane was equipped with WiFi; this is a nice perk on Southwest, because they provide limited free streaming TV on all WiFi-equipped aircraft. Full internet access and on-demand movies are available for a fee, $8 for internet, $5 for movies. The internet fee is a “per day” fee, so if you have a connection, you don’t have to pay the $8 twice. Also free – this way cool moving map flight tracker.
We ended up touching down in St. Louis a good half hour early, and as soon as I powered up my phone, a text message from Southwest was waiting, indicating that the departure of my onward flight had been delayed from 3:20 to 5:00. Uh-oh. So I did some quick digging online, and discovered that a) the incoming flight was originating from Chicago Midway, and b) a line of training thunderstorms was parked over the airport. Double uh-oh. This might be ugly…
WN Flight 4655 39
- August 25, 2014
- Depart: STL Gate E16, 13:49, 1m early
- Arrive: Dallas Love Field (DAL) Gate 9, 15:18, 12m early
- Seat: 23E
- Equipment: Boeing 737-700
Before leaving Ft. Myers, I just happened to notice that the immediately preceding flight to Dallas was scheduled to leave at 1:50. Since we were 19 minutes early, and I was in the third row of the plane, I figured I just might be able to try and get on. A quick look at the monitors showed that Flight 39 was just a couple of gates down, at Gate 16. I was prepared to grovel shamelessly if needed, but that wasn’t necessary. As soon as I walked up the desk and started explaining that I had a connection to Dallas on the 3:20, the agent immediately took my boarding pass and issued me a new one for the earlier one! Apparently I wasn’t the first passenger to ask, and I’d discover later that there were several others in the same boat. At least half a dozen folks begged to get on this flight. Thankfully, being a midday departure, there were plenty of extra seats, so everyone was able to be accommodated. Also, Southwest usually requires that you buy-up to an “Anytime” fare in order to switch flights, which can be a large difference if you bought an el cheapo fare, but they will waive that requirement during IRROPS. Anyway, a B-41 boarding pass most likely meant a middle seat in the back of the plane, but at this point, I really didn’t care. I was just happy that I wouldn’t be stuck at the airport for 4 hours.
I had originally planned on taking some photos of STL during my layover, but with now only a little over half an hour to go before I’d have to board, I barely had enough time to grab a bag of food and get back to the gate before boarding began. Boarding began on-time, and sure enough, I got the dreaded middle seat in the next to last row. And next to a super size individual in the aisle to boot. But the fact that I’d be home early, and with another Jack and Coke courtesy of another drink coupon for good measure, I was happy. But the middle seat also meant no pictures on the way to Dallas, a bummer since the weather was clear the entire way.
After a rather bumpy descent due to the triple digit heat in Dallas that afternoon, we landed early once again, and made our way to the gate better than 10 minutes early. Fortune would smile on me the entire way back home; the DART bus to the light rail station pulled up just as I walked up to the stop, the bus made it to the station just in time to catch the next train to Plano, and an UberX was there to pick me up just a couple of minutes after I stepped off the train. I was sitting on my couch watching NCIS reruns by 5. Just for kicks, I looked online and discovered that my original flight hadn’t even left Chicago yet, and wouldn’t for another 2 hours. The flight ended up not arriving at DAL until 10:30, which would have meant not getting home until after midnight. Talk about lucky. Just goes to show – always have a backup plan, and be polite to gate agents.
Rocky documented his poor experience flying Southwest inter-California last month, but I didn’t experience those issues on this set of flights. There were no lines to speak of in Ft. Myers, and none of the employees I encountered along the way were rude, though the late morning timing of my flight probably had as much to do with the lack of lines as anything else. That being said, this isn’t the same plucky Southwest of days old. While I didn’t encounter anyone who was rude, gone are the energetic, peppy flight crews of years past. One of the FAs on the RSW-STL leg was cracking the trademark corny jokes as we were boarding, but besides that, other employees were rather blah in their demeanor. Not surly, but not overly friendly, either. That would actually be an improvement at some legacy carriers, but a bit disappointing to see on Southwest. Maybe there’s something to the unions’ grousing about low employee morale, after all.
A word about the “cattle car” boarding process – it’s something you’re either going to love or hate. There’s not much in between. Personally, I like it, because there’s no risk of SHARES booting you from your pre-reserved seat randomly, you can usually find seats together as long as you board B-30 or higher, and there are no extra fees just for picking a seat towards the front of the plane. On the other hand, I can see why others hate it – you either have to remember to check in exactly 24 hours in advance to get a decent boarding position, or fork over $12.50 each way for Early Bird check-in. And the line-up can be discombobulated, though it’s not nearly as bad anymore with the numbered system, as opposed to just “A”, “B”, and “C” of old.
Overall, I can’t complain about these flights, especially since Southwest accommodated me on an earlier flight and saved me from a 5 1/2 hour delay. Next up, I’ll review my trip back to Florida a week later in AA First Class.