Trip Report: A Stop in Every Time Zone

Southwest, Trip Reports

Let’s see, where did I leave off. Ah yes, we had a really nice time in Indy. The weather was clear and sunny for the last couple 07_12_27 indsnowof days, but as you can see at left, we did have some snow over the weekend as well. (This is a pic of the backyard of my soon-to-be inlaws.)

In order to save a vacation day and save some money, we once again decided to fly back on Christmas Day. This meant we could use a Southwest Rapid Rewards freebie for a mere $5 in taxes per person. Unfortunately, Southwest’s Christmas schedule is pared back greatly, and while we could have found an easy one stop flight leaving at 230p, that was too early. So, we ended up flying old-school Southwest with 2 stops along the way.

I hadn’t done a run like that since my college days when flying between PHX and BWI actually required 2 stops on Southwest if you were lucky. This one was an ugly one. Yes, we could leave at 420p in the afternoon (from the Eastern Time Zone), but then we had to stop in Kansas City for 2 hours (Central Time Zone) and Phoenix for 30 minutes (Mountain Time Zone) before finally arriving back home in LA (Pacific Time Zone) near 10p. Normally that 420p flight is a one stop with no plane change that arrives LAX just after 7p.

As you can imagine, it was a long day, but the crews were cheerful and the legroom was good. That being said, I’m still tired.

December 25, 2007
Southwest #712 Lv Indianapolis (IND) 420p Arr Kansas City (MCI) 455p
IND: Gate C9, Runway 23R, Dept OT
MCI: Gate 37, Runway 19L, Arr :14E
Aircraft: N698SW, Boeing 737-300, Canyon Blue, 121/137Y
Seat: 11A
Flight Time: 1h8m

Thinking Christmas wouldn’t be very crowded at the airport, we arrived only about an hour before our flight. We were right. Very few security gates were open, but it took no time at all. Well, it took a little longer because they were a little suspicious about the tea kettle I had packed into my bag. Yes, it was a Christmas present that required some clever packing.

There weren’t very many flights going, but the ones that did seemed to be full. Our plane arrived with plenty of time to turn around, and they got us ready to board 30 minutes prior. Indy has the temporary setup for the new boarding process and it was a tight squeeze. We had checked in very early and ended up with A18/A19. A1-15 is reserved for those who buy the Business Select fare, and there appeared to be only two people who had spent the extra dough. So, we were some of the first onboard.

Instinctively, we went straight to seats 11A and B. The exit row on the left side of the plane has the most unbelievable legroom. I can barely kick the seat in front of me if I’m stretched out fully. Take a look at the picture at right07_12_27 wnlegroom and you’ll see what I mean. This plane has a colorful history starting out with CP Air in Canada over 20 years ago, flying for VASP in Brazil soon after, and finally making its way to Southwest via the Morris Air acquisition. It may have a long history, but the interior was in good shape, and it didn’t show its age.

As you might expect, the crew was in a pretty festive mood, and the lead flight attendant was joking the entire way. He kept involving the kids onboard by asking if they’d had a good Christmas, asking what they got, etc. You could tell he was enjoying his day. That flight went on from Kansas City to San Diego, San Jose, and finally Reno, so I’m curious to hear how he sounded by the time he finished that grueling trip.

It was a beautiful day to fly and we had a smooth trip. Tasty honey roasted peanuts and water kept me happy, and soon enough we were on our way in to sunny Kansas City.

I always forget how far that airport is from . . . everything. It’s clear when you arrive that there’s nothing around, but at least it’s a nice airport. We deplaned and went to the only open restaurant – the Cuervo Tequileria – to eat a little and wait out the 2 hour layover. As I said, I like the airport, but there is one fatal flaw. Everything is outside security and each checkpoint is good for only a handful of gates. So, it’s a great airport for locals but a terrible one for connections.

December 25, 2007
Southwest #1501 Lv Kansas City (MCI) 650p Arr Phoenix (PHX) 845p
MCI: Gate 38, Runway 19R, Dept :18L
PHX: Gate C1, Runway 7L, Arr :04L
Aircraft: N706SW, Boeing 737-700, Canyon Blue (winglets), ~95%Y
Seat: 11A
Flight Time: 2h26m

Soon enough, it was time to head over the gate, so we went through security again and found a seat. This is the first time I’ve seen Southwest’s new gate design fully implemented, and I liked it a lot. They had some sitting areas with tables and little chairs for kids. They have several bars with 110V and USB power ports. Combined with Kansas City’s wi-fi, you can get a lot of work done. But the best part was the big flat screen TVs showing the Suns – Lakers game. There were mostly Suns fans around, so I tried not to gloat too much when the Lakers finished them off.

Once again, we had early boarding numbers, so we hopped into place for boarding. Once the inbound plane was emptied, they let us on, and again we snagged 11A/B. Jackpot! We were staying on the plane in Phoenix, so this would be our home for a long time. This is one of the older -700s in Southwest’s fleet. In fact, it’s pushing 10 years now, but it had a nice clean interior and you wouldn’t have known from the inside.

This time, while the flight attendants were friendly, it was the captain and first officer who were joking around the most. They kept firing off joke after joke and got on the horn a lot during the flight. They also liked to mess with the flight attendants from up front. During the safety briefing, right when the flight attendant said to put on the oxygen masks and “breathe normally,” you heard heavy breathing sounds coming over the PA. Then the flight attendant started laughing. Only when it happened again on the next flight (with different flight attendants) did I realize that it was the captain waiting for the right time before interrupting their briefing.

We blasted out of Kansas City and had a straight shot to Phoenix. Though it was clear, they said we might have a few bumps, and the captain ended up settling at 34,000 ft because it reportedly had the best ride. It was smooth at first, but then the bumps started and the captain put the seatbelt sign on. He was very conservative, because even when it let up, he never turned the sign off again.

Just after we passed Albuquerque, we hit some pretty rough air. One of the pilots had come back to chat with another pilot sitting in the back when we started to bounce. (Should he be doing that?) Then the plane started descending and we saw the pilot hurriedly head back up front. We came down to 30,000 ft where we found a smoother ride on into PHX.

We did a strange approach that I can’t remember ever doing in Phoenix before. We came from the Northeast heading just east of the airport. Then we turned left between South Mountain and the airport and headed out west before hooking a U-turn and landing to the east. I can’t remember doing that approach before. (Sorry for those who have no idea what I’m talking about.)

We taxied quickly and pulled up to the gate only a couple minutes late. Everyone hopped off except for the few of us who were to continue on to LA.

December 25, 2007
Southwest #1501 Lv Phoenix (PHX) 910p Arr Los Angeles (LAX) 930p
PHX: Gate C1, Runway 7L, Dept :14L
LAX: Gate 9, Runway 24L, Arr :18L
Aircraft: N706SW, Boeing 737-700, Canyon Blue (winglets), 100%Y
Seat: 11A
Flight Time: 1h2m

On the ground, our flight attendants left and another group came onboard to take us on our final leg to LAX. The pilots remained the same, but all of a sudden they became mute. We only heard from them once during the entire flight (in addition to the heavy breathing, of course).

Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for the flight attendants. I’m sure some people were in good spirits if they had just started their journey, but for those of us who had already taken two flights, the last thing we wanted was a perky crew. So when the flight attendant came on and exclaimed, “Merry Christmas Everybody!!!!!!!” I would have paid anything for a set of noise-canceling headphones . . . or a baseball bat.

Once again, Southwest struggled to meet their tightly scheduled turn time and it took us 35 minutes to get back off the gate. Remember the days of 10 minute turns? I highly doubt they’d be able to pull that off these days. I suppose it is harder when everyone is lugging Christmas gifts down the aisle, but people were just really pokey in general. I have to credit one of the flight attendants who was from New England. Her sharp accent was put to good use telling people that the flight was completely full so they should take the first seat they see. I don’t know if anyone listened, but it was a good attempt.

We had a long taxi to the far west end of the field before departing into the moonlight. This flight was similar to the first flight of the day in that I had peanuts and water, and it was a smooth ride. The pilots still played it conservative, however, and left the seatbelt sign on the entire time.

We slowly descended into the sprawling lights of the LA Basin and the view was spectacular (at left, you’ll see my hometown – Long Beach).07_12_27 lightsoflgb Apparently, we were coming in a little too quickly, because about 30 miles out, he dropped the gear with a thud. It was pretty startling to hear it go down so early, but we slowed down quickly and came in for a bouncy landing (that’s two in a row for these guys).

Needless to say, we were happy to be home and wanted off the airplane. When the flight attendant started singing on our taxi back, it made me ponder pulling the emergency exit. Fortunately for me, I didn’t and instead waited for us to get to the gate. It was a ghost town in the terminal with only people waiting for US Airways’ redeye flights around. We headed out, grabbed a cab, and headed home to get some sleep.

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4 comments on “Trip Report: A Stop in Every Time Zone

  1. Ah, the fascination with old-school Southwest… Many short hops and holiday schedule–sounds familiar. I have flown them on Thanksgiving Day a couple of years ago, and when choosing flights found it amusing that they practically shut down for the afternoon. It’s the right thing to do though.

    Off topic, but I think the readership anxiously waits for CF comments re: MaxJet debacle, given the prior “Across the isle” interview with one of their VPs.

  2. Ivan – I’m working on my year end tribute to airlines that went under in 2007, and that’s where I’ll talk about MAXjet. Unfortunately, I am not able to get any inside information. I know they were bleeding cash for a variety of reasons and just couldn’t raise any more.

  3. I think I’ll have to put Southwest near the top of my list to fly in the near future. I’ve never quite gotten the appeal (besides the fares.) Quite frankly I appreciate a good quiet flight. Although I’m all for a humorous safety briefing.) (An aside: I like how JetBlue gets their announcements out of the way in a quick announcement at the beginning of the flight.)

    The major draw away from Southwest for me as of late has been the lack of redeyes flying east.. I pretty much refuse to waste a whole day flying east. Why do they have an aversion to redeyes?

  4. Nick – I’m not sure why Southwest continues to avoid redeyes. I believe in the past it was related to aircraft maintenance schedules, but I can’t imagine that would be the case for such a large fleet these days. Maybe it’s crew scheduling? But you would think that would be a good way to increase utilization time and help spread out the costs.

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