9 Airports, 1 Day: Chronicling an Incredibly Long But Successful Day

I know it’s taken me awhile to write this one up, but when you do 8 flights in one day, it’s not a quick process to document it. For those who missed it, on August 9 I took 8 Southwest flights touching 9 California airports. You can read the backstory here. Though there were a couple of close calls, I did indeed successfully complete the day. Want proof? Here’s a video of every takeoff and landing, sped up into a nice and neat 3m12s video.

There’s a lot to digest here, so I’m going to break it up into 3 separate posts.

  • Today: My Thoughts on the Day Overall
  • Tuesday: Long Beach -> Oakland -> Ontario -> Sacramento -> Orange County
  • Thursday: Orange County -> San Jose -> Burbank -> San Francisco -> Los Angeles

When I first cooked up this idea, it sounded insane. After actually taking 8 flights in one day, I realize I was right to think that way. On the bright side, I celebrated 10 years of Cranky with one fun day. On the downside, I apparently didn’t actually qualify for the companion pass. (!) The rules didn’t seem entirely clear, and I somehow failed to realize that the first flights I did to qualify back in July didn’t count because they were booked before I registered. So annoying. But there’s an easy fix. I have a trip in September on which I wasn’t going to fly Southwest, but now I will and I’ll qualify then.

Overall, this was a remarkable experience. When I first decided this would be possible, I sent a note to the PR people at Southwest. They said they’d pass it along to ops to see if my flights could get some extra attention to keep them on-time. In the end, only half of them actually went on-time, but none of the delays were enough to ruin everything.

Once I posted my plan a few weeks ago, I found out that the blog made its way through all levels of management at Southwest. The ops people were fired up to try to make it work. And the individual stations? They each saw this as a personal challenge. I didn’t realize it until things got underway, but each team at each airport made an effort to outdo the others. It was exactly the kind of fun-filled competition that sounds synonymous with the Southwest of old. I can’t tell you how many people I spoke with who just kept saying “it’s just so much fun, we love this.”

While this day did highlight what’s great about Southwest (I mean, it’s remarkable how Southwest has become so essential to serving those secondary California airports), it also brought some of Southwest’s issues into the spotlight. Wifi was slow, and that’s being generous. On some flights it was basically non-functioning. And don’t even get me started about the lack of power outlets onboard. I don’t want to hear “but battery life is getting better.” That’s garbage. Power is essential, and it’s time for Southwest to admit it. Even with the new interiors coming out, there is still no plan for power.

I also noticed the stark contrast between a Southwest-staffed station and an outsourced one. The people in Long Beach were very nice, but they aren’t Southwest employees and the experience just felt different. That’s not a knock on the contractor at all. It’s simply recognition of the fact that if Southwest is going to continue to expand into smaller stations where it’s not possible to staff from a financial perspective, then the experience isn’t going to be the same.

Possibly most notable, however, was Southwest’s inability to do a quick turn. Sure back in the day of the 10-minute turn, the airplanes were smaller and less full. But today it seems like Southwest struggles to even pull off a 30 minute turn. This was really highlighted in Sacramento, through no apparent fault of the station itself.

I still can’t think of any other opportunity to fly between 9 airports in one state in one day, never touching the same airport twice. Southwest has built a tremendous operation in this state, and I’m glad I was able to see it up close. (Sorry San Diego, maybe next time.)

I’ll get into the full details of the trip starting tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s some further reading if you’re interested…

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