Ok, let’s get back to our regularly scheduled programming. As I mentioned yesterday, I had the chance to go visit Southwest Airlines earlier this week. Why? Well, I was one of the winners of Southwest’s schedule planning contest, and the reward was a trip to come out to headquarters for a day of fun.
I wasn’t sure I could make it because it conflicted with US Airways Media Day, but when I heard that I would get to meet Herb Kelleher, I had to go. Despite rumors that he’ll live forever, I didn’t want to take that chance, so I made the trip while I could. It was definitely worth it, and the whole day was just good fun.
The day started off with the best part . . . meeting founder and former Chairman, President, and CEO Herb Kelleher along with former President and heart of the company, Colleen Barrett. As an airline dork, Herb was always one of the guys that I looked up to as a kid. He’s one of the last of a dying breed of true airline leaders, and the stories surrounding him are legendary. So simply to be in his presence was awesome.
They’ve set up an “Emeritus” wing at headquarters for Herb and Colleen. I believe the official definition of Emeritus is, “people who kind of want to retire but not really,” or, uh, something like that. We all gathered in Herb’s office which had a western theme to it. Herb pulled up a few chairs and the three winners, the other two with their wives, and a couple other Southwest folks sat down to chat.
Herb was in a really good mood, and he was telling stories and constantly unleashing his trademark laugh. This was pretty surprising since we had found out that he’s just started to quit smoking. I would have expected some serious crankiness.
Most of our time was spent hearing him tell stories and ask us questions about what we did for a living, etc. When I told him I wrote Cranky, he said that his assistant actually prints it out for him. If that’s true, well, howdy Herb! Colleen joined us about halfway through, and the half hour went by very quickly.
After the requisite picture-taking, we went over to meet with Pete McGlade, VP of Schedule Planning. (I’m fairly sure he wasn’t interested in my request for the return of Indy to LAX, but I had to try.) Then it was off to tour around the building and have lunch.
After lunch, we headed out to Love Field. A couple of ramp managers took us around on a tour of the airport down below. But this was no ordinary tour – it was interactive. As you can see, they had me slinging bags for a few minutes. My guess is that if I did that for a full shift, I would probably be in serious pain. Rampers must be in great shape because they get one heck of a workout.
Public Service Announcement: Pack lighter. Seriously. Your stuff is too heavy.
We walked around the ramp and saw Herb’s Hangar, the place on the ramp where Herb parks his car when he flies. Now that’s a killer perk. We went through the ops center and then through the crew base. The flight attendants were preparing for the big Southwest chili cookoff by having a semi-final round where people had to pick the best of eight.
Attention Southwest people: If #2 won, then the rest of you should be scared.
After the tour, it was back to headquarters where we had the chance to crash some planes, er, some fake planes. They brought us over to the training center which has 7 simulators and another being installed. Each of us had the chance to go in to a 737-700 simulator, depart from Love Field, fly around downtown, and then come back again and land.
I naturally assumed that I would immediately crash, but that wasn’t the case. Our instructor was doing most of the hard work for us, and we were just using the yoke and the throttles. If we ever got close to screwing up (or should I say, “when we got close”), he would make a slight adjustment and then tell us that he didn’t do anything – it was all us. Very slick, and, well, none of us crashed.
I do have to say that the sim is incredibly life-like. I was getting sweaty palms just from the sensation of being in this thing. It felt like I could actually crash something. Clearly I wasn’t meant to be a commercial pilot.
While we were there, they took us around to some other training devices. We all put on life vests and inflated them on command. And we took turns opening the 737-700 window exit. That is a lot harder than it looks. If you ever need to open that door, yank down on the handle as hard as you can so it swings open quickly. I wish everyone had the chance to try that, so they could know what it’s like.
As I said, this was just a lot of fun. The highlight for was clearly meeting Herb, but the rest of the day was excellent as well. Thank you, Southwest, for bringing us out for the day. And next time, let’s get some harder scheduling problems to solve!