To Fly or Not To Fly… Southwest

One thing about traveling for work is that you fly on the cheap, well for my company anyway, so it becomes difficult to accumulate frequent flyer miles with one airline.  There is some latitude with my company in that I get to book my own flights which means that I don’t always have to leave in the dark of the early morning and arrive long after the sun sets.  I used to fly on United primarily until they merged with Continental several years ago.  The cost wasn’t bad and they had reasonable departure and arrival times.  And sometimes I would get “bumped up” to 1st class!

One of the fallouts from this merger was that the flights were not inexpensive anymore and they changed the routes and I lost my premium status.  No longer were the “one-stop” flights available when I traveled to the West coast.  I used to be able to leave my home on the East coast around 7:00 am and arrive in sunny California around 1pm local time.  The “one-stop” was typically in Chicago or Washington, D.C., neither of which are fun to travel through, especially Chicago in the summer, fall, winter, and spring, otherwise it’s okay to make a connection.  Their “new” best flight, and not necessarily the most economical one, from East to West left around 6am and arrived after 8pm! There were two or three stops on the journey that would connect in Orlando, then onto Denver, then finally arrive in California.  Are you ready to jump on a flight??

When you travel by air for a living, you kind of become a “travel snob.”  Meaning that you have minimal, if any, patience for the traveling public that can’t figure out how to get to their seat in a timely manner without disrupting the entire plane because they can’t count.  I can’t tell you how many times I would see passengers counting the seats using the number labeled just below the overhead compartments, only to walk past their own seat by several rows before realizing that they completely missed their seat.  And then try to swim up stream against the flow of the other passengers in an effort to make their way back and then get annoyed with those passengers, some of whom knew how to count, because they wouldn’t let them past.  A log jam would eventually occur and the flight attendant would need to sort it all out.  As you can imagine, several times the flight was delayed due to this stupidity.  Don’t I make business travel sound fun!?

One of the knocks against Southwest has been the “cattle car” mentality that passengers just rush the plane in an effort to find a seat.  Southwest has an “open seating” policy meaning that you can choose any available seat to sit in for the flight.  As I was so used to having an assigned seat and priority boarding, it felt like I took a step backwards when I first started to fly with them.  I thought there was no way this was an efficient way to board a plane.  Well over the past several years now, I have come to learn different…  Their use of the “A, B, C” boarding zones along with a sequential number for when it’s your turn to get on the plane is actually very effective and efficient. It makes me wonder why the other airlines haven’t adapted the same philosophy?

One of the best things (and it could also be one of the worst) about an “open seating” policy is that if you are lucky enough, you can sit next to someone who is fun! I can’t even count the number of times I met really interesting people and have exchanged phone numbers afterward to keep in touch. Admittedly, most of them were women and we went out for dinner or drinks or… (I’ll leave it to your imagination). 😉  When flying on the other airlines, you are going to get stuck next to that one person and that’s how the whole flight will be; you and a potentially boring or snobby person. That’s not to say you don’t meet them on Southwest, but I have developed a few strategies that have worked and I have met some fun people:

1. Try to get in the “A” boarding group! Even if you have to pay a few extra bucks, it’s worth it. By being in the “A” group, you get your choice of seat first, which is a huge advantage when wanting to meet someone.

First thing you need to do is look around and check out your fellow passengers. Identify a few that you “think” you wouldn’t mind sitting next to for a few hours (obviously it depends on where you are going for the flight to last a few hours), and those that you “hope” won’t sit next to you. I say hope, because if these folks are in the “C” group and you have an open center seat… they’re going to sit there and you can sense it!

I recommend sitting about seven to nine rows from the entrance and sit on the left side of the plane. This gives you the added advantage of spotting them get on the plane and you can start your process of “attracting” them to sit next to you. While I’m waiting for “Miss Right” to board, I’ll look past the other passengers as they board pretending to look as if I’m waiting for someone. Most passengers, not all, will take this as a clue and find a seat elsewhere. And when she is about to approach my row, I subtlety turn towards the aisle as if I were going to get something from the overhead and make certain to smile and make eye contact. Saying hello can also boost your chances too! This approach has worked numerous times and I have met some fun women!

2. If there is someone you feel you don’t want to sit next to you an easy way to ward them off is by placing some object(s) on the seat next to you. Again most passengers take it as a sign you are waiting for someone. And it is important that you don’t make eye contact with them as you scan the oncoming group. Not even for a split second! The human brain can process so much information in a millisecond that the person will “believe” you want them to sit next you because you “looked” at them, and then they do!

3. Another way to scare off a passenger while you wait for the one or two that you saw earlier in the queue, is to hold the flight sick bag (a.k.a.: barf bag), up to your face while resting your forehead on the seat in front of you. Most passengers don’t want to deal with someone who has potential to get sick, so they move on. But you have to sell it! A coworker of mine and I were flying to Vegas one time and we tried this… successfully!

The flight we were on was “sold out” or so they told us. Well there was one open seat on the flight and it was the center seat right between us! One of the flight attendants was watching our shenanigans and didn’t say anything to us. She wanted to see if it would work. And it did! She approached us after they closed the door and said that was the best decoy she’s ever seen in all of her years flying. We drank for free all the way to Vegas! Thank goodness a barf bag was close by… because after five hours of drinking, we felt like we needed one! lol

One of the best things about flying Southwest is that an extremely high percentage of their employees (obviously the ones I’ve dealt with over the years), are truly happy to work for the airline. I know most people are skeptical about that and the commercials they run on television, but I have to say that in my experience, I’ve met some really fun flight attendants, pilots, and ground crew. Having flown United, Delta, and sometimes American over the years, I’ve had the misfortune of dealing with disgruntled employees. I’m not making a blanket statement and indicting all of them, but it has been my experience that most of the ones I dealt with didn’t want to be there. Now that may have changed over the years that I used to fly those other airlines exclusively, but after a recent flight to and from Chicago… sadly it hasn’t.

If you haven’t tried flying Southwest, give it a shot. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed! Just remember to get an “A” boarding position, and if you are single… who knows!? You just might meet your future partner! 😉

Travel Humor – The Pickle Jar

I have traveled for work now the last fifteen years and a lot has changed since those first few flights so long ago.  As all “air” travelers know by now, security has gone from a quick wave and a hello to the airport security officers to basically stripping down to our undies via a scanning machine that bombards the body with low level radiation designed to “detect” any dense objects being carried on our person that shouldn’t be allowed on a plane.  Yes I said dense.  And yes my brain basket is still allowed through even though it is dense beyond measurable levels at times.  Anyone of my friends will attest to that fact!

TSA (Transportation Security Administration – for those of you who didn’t know what the letters stood for), has been tasked with keeping the traveling public safe when it comes to air travel as well as other forms of public transportation, but are most visible and known at all public airports.  They are highly trained individuals who go through extensive training to learn what to watch for at airports to prevent dangerous items from getting on board an aircraft.  I have witnessed them confiscate spoons, lighters, an Afro-pick, knitting needles (over six inches long), and various other items through the years; however, none was funnier than the pickle jar.

As I made my way through the security gauntlet at the Orlando airport, I witnessed these highly trained professionals in action when they stopped a passenger from getting on a plane with a jar of Kosher dill pickles.  The jar itself was clear and the pickles (spears) were visible along with the fluid surrounding the succulent treats.  Two TSA personnel were questioning the young man, who, not to label or stereotype, was a redneck.  He sported a “wife-beater” tank top (that’s what they’re called so stop getting all riled up and “politically correct” about your bad self because I used that term), tucked into a pair of denim cutoff shorts just above the knee, a brown leather belt with his name “Bud” emblazoned on the back (can’t make that shit up), a long dark brown leather wallet packed in his right back pocket and leashed to a chain, white athletic socks with double red stripes near the top which came to rest about mid-shin, surrounded by the over the ankle “shit kicker” boots with the laces wrapped around the ankles and double knotted in the front.  And if you need further proof he was a redneck – Yes he was sporting a mullet along with a thin mustache!

As the TSA officers were questioning Bud, each was rifling through, what looked to me to be a procedural book that apparently only covered issues up to the letter “O.”  As one officer flipped through the pages, the other was asking him questions like, “Why are you bringing a jar of pickles on the plane?”  To which he responded, “Because they don’t serve nothing on the planes no more and I can eat those when I get hungry.”  The questioning officer acknowledged his answer by nodding his head in approval.  (Round 1: Redneck)  The second officer then asked him, “Why don’t you just take along a bag of nuts or some other snack if you’re hungry?”  “Why should I eat stuff like that if I don’t like it?” he parried back.  Officer number two tilted his head back in thought, then leaned forward as if to say something, but instead nodded his head in approval.  (Round 2: Redneck)

As I watched the inquiry go on, a third TSA officer approached and joined the interrogation.  He, it seemed to me, was the senior officer in charge because the other two yielded their positions and cleared out of the way.  He was also carrying a large procedure book with him and my guess was that it was the continuation of the current manual in use and started at the letter “P.”  He set the book down, made a show of flipping through the pages while curling his lips up towards his nose and shaking his head as tried to make sense of the situation.  He would flip through several pages (I highly doubt even Evelyn Woods could have read the pages that fast!), pretending to have read what was written, snorting derisively here and there for effect.  After about two minutes of grandstanding he was ready to ask his first question.  However, in the mean time, Bud reached past all them and popped the jar open, and to everyone’s amazement, including my own, he drank the nearly two pints of pickle juice as if he were in a beer guzzling contest!  When finished draining the fluid into his gullet, he wiped his mouth on his bare arm, put the lid back on, plopped the jar back onto the table and declared, “Problem solved.”

The TSA officers were dumfounded and stood with their mouths open.  They slowly turned and looked at each other, then back at Bud without a word to say.  Each shrugged their shoulders, closed up the manuals, and waved him through.

Round 3: TKO – Redneck!

Copyright (C) 2015 by Frank Cormier.  All rights reserved.