Friday, January 11, 2008

Witz Pickz: Live Free or Fly (Southwest Airlines)

I can’t think of anything I’ve partaken in recently, so I will instead regale you with another tale of air travel adventure. This time I passed out 100% less than in previous adventures.

I got to the airport ready to head back West. It was freezing cold outside, I could feel my “Immune” system breaking under the pressure’s of a real Winter, and I knew I needed to get back to the moderate temperatures of California. I walked to the boarding area and looked at the new system of boarding—instead of simply having groups A, B, and C, they now have numbers that accompany the groups. They built posts in the boarding area with numbers on them to line up next to. Each post has five number increments. So basically if you’re A23, you lineup in the A group, between 21-25 marker. This doesn’t so much speed up boarding as it does dramatically slow it down while allowing for more people to hangout sitting down and further away. While this is more logical in one way, it also is moving the wrong direction in actual travel accommodation. I blame lazy fat people.

So I line up, board, and snag a seat by the window. A girl sits on the end. Group C is clearly boarding and only middle seats are left open. Suddenly, a seven foot tall giant boards the plane….and walks by…phew, dodged a bullet, right? Wrong. After a slight pause, the ENTIRE UMASS BASKETBALL TEAM boards the plane. About 30 huge dudes, heads bent to fit in the plane, walk on in and take middle seats. There is nothing worse than that. The value of short people still boarding suddenly quadrupled, and I started making eye contact with them, smiling brightly and attempting to convey the though that, “You’ll just LOVE sitting next to me!” Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure it translated as, “I’m gonna touch you when you sleep!” and none of the petite women took the bait. I threw the, “Dude, I’ve got snacks and a video ipod” look at some smaller guys, but I’m pretty sure that one translated as, “I’m gonna touch you when you sleep!” as well. It was already predetermined that a seven foot athlete was going to sit next to me, so I was not surprised when it happened.

I tried to break the ice with some conversation, and said something to the effect of, “Man, you’d think someone would have been in charge of making sure you were in the A Group,” but it didn’t land so well. Have you ever tried to make an event planning/organizational comment to a gangsta looking nineteen year old with biceps bigger than your head? In case you haven’t, they don’t go over so well. He was not interested. But whatever, I mean, it was only a few hours to—where were we going again? Oh yeah, Las Vegas. Right? Kind of.

For some reason unbeknownst to me, Southwest Airlines doesn’t tell you where their planes will be stopping unless you are physically transferring planes. So a flight from Hartford to San Francisco, for instance, might have the vague and mysterious detail “3 stops” on it. They don’t tell you what those three stops are, but they definitely exist. They could be Hartford to Austin to Chicago to Seattle to San Francisco for all I know, only in the past, this system hasn’t been a problem. This time, with a huge baller next to me, it suddenly became infinitely more important. I found out that they were playing Vanderbilt, which meant that we were actually landing in…Nashville. So we were going from Hartford to Nashville, which happens to be a three hour flight. Awesome. I managed through it, sitting quietly, occasionally talking to the girl next to us and receiving a look from No. 18 that clearly indicated shock that I would even consider talking to a girl, even about the city we both had in common (Seattle), especially when HE was around. So I slept.

From Nashville, I found out that the flight to Las Vegas was actually another FOUR HOURS. So even though it took 6 hours to fly from SF to Hartford, it was taking 7 hours simply to fly from Hartford to Vegas. Whatever, though, suck it up Witz. And I did. Until we reached Vegas. I was supposed to transfer to off my flight which was continuing on to Reno and San Jose (which got in later than my flight to SF) and get onto a flight to SF. They announced on board that there was snow in Reno, so all flights were cancelled for the night. Groans, but for once, not my problem (or NMP as I’ve started saying—and LOVING saying). So I get off the plane, where my luggage was being transferred, and walked out to get some food, water, and bathroom break—all of which were meant to help eliminate my raging migraine. Before I could do anything, however, I saw that my flight from Vegas to SF was DELAYED FOUR HOURS. MINIMUM. Rain in SF was causing problems.

And this is where the positive side of Southwest steps up. Uncertain that my plane would even leave Vegas, rebooking and hotel fees in my future, and a four hour wait staring down at me, I took action. A huge line formed at the Reno/SJ gate because of the Reno passengers. I overheard that since Reno was cancelled, they were flying STRAIGHT to San Jose, and getting in earlier than my SF flight was supposed to originally. Once again my instincts kicked in and I…ran. I ran until I found a less trafficked Southwest gate and then I tapped my foot frantically as I waited for the two Reno passengers in front of me to solve the middle east crisis or whatever the hell they were taking so long with. If my plan was going to work, I needed celerity—time was not on my side.

I finally got my chance at the front and spoke quickly to the customer service rep.

“Hi, I was on the flight to San Jose, but am supposed to be transferring to the SFO flight which looks to be delayed and maybe cancelled later, but Reno was cancelled, so there are probably open seats and I’d like to switch to that flight if possible which leaves in 15 minutes!”

“Honey, you have to go to that gate, not this one,” the woman said, oozing helpfulness.

“Yeah, I know that’s the general rule, but it’s a mile long and I won’t get to resolve this and since there are empty seats, it will save trouble later if I can just—“ I though as much begging and pain into my eyes as possible, silently praying that they didn’t simply give off the, “If you fall asleep, I’m gonna touch you!” vibe as before.

“Ok, I’ll try, but I can’t promise anything,” the wonderful air goddess informed me. She typed away for about ten minutes and finally handed me a boarding pass. “Hope this works,” she said to me, and I stood in shock that it actually worked out. This crusty, cranky, old lady, clearly having spent too long at work, smiled brightly at me, a tired smile, but a genuine one, and I beamed back gratitude.

“Thank you SO MUCH!” I said and went in for an awkward hug, that was made more awkward by the fact that she stepped backwards as I did so to avoid my arms. I looked at her and smiled my best, “I was going to touch you whether you were asleep or not” look before turning and running to my gate with minutes to spare.

I jumped on board, about ten scattered people in seats, and took an entire three seat section. A few more passengers followed suit, but there were still at least 200 empty seats when we gloriously took off for San Jose. Unfortunately, my bags were not a part of the celebration. You see, due to an egregious system error, there is no good way to communicate with the baggage people. I literally saw them taking my bags off the plane I had been on all day and would be on again, but couldn’t say anything about it. I wanted to shout down to them, “Yo, keep those on, I’m here now,” but I doubt it would have even done any good. Can’t we do something about this? Would it be so tough to get some system into place? Baggage people seem way too disconnected from the rest of the airport staff.

With surprising faith that my bags would get to SF eventually, I closed my eyes and rode it out to San Jose, where I was picked up and brought home earlier than I expected when I left that morning. I had flown for 10 hours, but I was home.

I called SFO the next day and had some brief conversations with bag people—not that kind. Flights were still delayed, but I was assured they would be on the first flight into SF. I asked, logically, if they could check to see if my bags were on a flight yet, but they could not. I asked if they had some sort of system to scan in bags as they were placed in different places and flights, and was shocked to find out that they DO NOT. I found this rather hard to believe. AIRLINES, or at least Southwest Airlines, do not employ the logical, easily implemented, and tremendously useful method of package tracking that EVERY SHIPPING COMPANY IN THE UNITED STATES EMPLOYS. All they’d have to do is have one dude with a scan gun like the grocery store as luggage was distributed. Then, they’d know EXACTLY where your bag was at all times. Baggage worries gone. Whatever.

The next day, I went to SFO and picked up my bag in about three minutes. I walked in, went to the claim area, and there was my bag, sitting in a roped off area. I had my claim check and asked if I could snag my bags. The woman replied, “Sure, just tell us your name so we can write it down…” Really?? “Should I give you my claim check…” I ask her. “Oh yeah!” she replies, “That would be even better!” I sigh an even greater sigh of relief than before and wonder how many bags I could have just taken if I hadn’t offered my claim check. Christmas Part 2—Merry Christmas, you get…socks, toothpaste, makeup, books, and who knows what else…
Within an hour, I’m home, with my bags, and stress free. I could still have been stuck in Vegas (any other time, a great prospect), not knowing when I’d get home, but instead Southwest listened to me, helped me out, and got me where I asked to be. That’s more service than I have gotten anywhere else, and despite some odd or illogical practices, they get the job done. Go Southwest.

I’m So Fly You Get Yo’ Ass Flown (to quote Prozack Turner),


wonderyak said...

You know, I have long whined to anyone who would listen about the awful state of bag-handling in America's air-travel industry.

But I actually have a solution, I promise! You even said it yourself, every shipping company in the world can handle this type of stuff. So...WHY NOT OUTSOURCE BAGGAGE-HANDLING TO FEDEX! They already have the personnel and infrastructure in place! If all airlines and airports (which, and this always seems weird to me, are actually businesses of their own) banded together to create some sort of money pool, our bags wouldn't get lost...basically ever, if my calculations are correct.

When we were flying to and around Brazil, we took 8 different flights, most of which were on the Brazilian airline TAM. Were our bags ever lost in Brazil, regardless of how utterly disorganized the airports seemed to be run? NOPE! They were only lost on the American Airlines flight from Dallas to Seattle. Direct flight. We checked our bags 3 hours early. WTF?!

Anyway. Think about it. FedEx, baby. Giggity.

IrishGal said...

I dig SWA too and also used them to get to/fro for Xmas. The only other instance that may top flying SWA was my one venture with Continental. However, that was international so the bar was probably unfairly raised. How can a domestic airline beat a hot towel?

HollisBald(Loss) said...

How about getting "randomly" selected to be searched and then having a minority with a 4th grade education touch your crotch with blue latex gloves? Nice.

You got off easy Jon.

Anonymous said...

This whole situation could be avoided if you just buck-up and fly direct. That's what JetBlue is for, SFO, OAK and SJC just a few snacks and 6 episodes of Project Runway on DirectTV away. Cheers!
Amy H