I flew Southwest Airlines for the first time in my life yesterday. The experience was unexpected to say the least. The only point of reference I had was flying People Express in the 80’s when I was younger and had considerably less travel experience.
My first clue that I had entered a whole different wing of the airport was when they would not accept my boarding pass from my smartphone. Armed with highlighters and nary a scanner insight, I was sent off to print a boarding pass at a distant kiosk. As this was explained to me by TSA, I saw people behind me not just irritated at the delay I was causing but smirking at my mistake.
I printed the pass and went back to the front of the line (seeing as I had already waited once) and the trusty highlighter let me through. Given the amount of dirty looks sent my way I had the impulse to explain to the folks on line that I was not swanning through security, I had Special Circumstances.
When I arrived at the gate I was totally confused. Not only were there were hordes of people, but there was only one desk for four gates and the sign for flight info was on a reader board where you put the letters up one by one. The kind you generally find in an office or medical building listing names and suite numbers.
I found what my ticket said was my gate and since they were already boarding (did I mention the usually one-hour Taxi ride to the airport took an hour 45 putting me at the airport 25 minutes before my flight? Anyway. I cannot for the life of me figure out my seat number. I pull out my phone to compare printed to electronic info and I still can’t find a seat number. Roughly a hundred people are huddled around the entrance like vultures, so I go back to the agent at the desk who is patiently updating flight info with her tray of letters and ask her to show me where my seat number is on my boarding pass.
She smiles indulgently.
Turns out (which the rest of the world but me obviously knows), there are no assigned seats on Southwest. You line up by “boarding numbers” between these poles and they let customers on it batches and you grab whatever seat you want. Now understanding the system I instantly realized I would be one of the last five people to enter the plane meaning I was guaranteed a center seat between two over sized businessmen.
There was no more overhead space by the time I got on and the flight attendant grabbed my bag. I said ‘Are you gate checking my bag?’ and she said “I’m checking it!”, with full head bob and attitude. I held out my hand for the check number and she said “I’ll bring it to you, don’t worry”. I looked down and she had bits of torn paper with the final destination scrawled on them tucked under the handle of the suitcase. I bravely walked down the aisle sure that I would never see my suitcase again.
The flight itself was uneventful so I had plenty of time to reflect on what social etiquette makes the aisle and window seats both entitled to the use of two arm rests. Apparently the center seat is the red-headed step child of the airplane world. I also had time to notice a certain level of shabbiness and lack of professionalism that made me nervous.
First of all none of the flight attendants clothes matched. It was sort of like how all the workers at Target need to wear something red on top, all these Southwest attendants all wore something blue. One had a blue polo and shorts, one had a blue vest over a blouse, one had a blue blouse with a little fake tie. They all looked wrinkled and, not exactly grubby, but “unfresh”.
From my center seat purgatory I had time to wonder: Why did the blond flight attendants roots showing make me think her less competent? Why did the bad makeup job on the older than me (!) flight attendant make me think another airline let her go? Why did the little jokes they made during the safety instructions make me uneasy rather than lighten my mood? Everyone else chuckled appreciatively.
That’s when I decided I had officially turned into a snob. And being a snob, I have no plans to ever fly Southwest again if I can possibly help it.