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

Cranky 10, Southwest, Trip Reports

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.

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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24 comments on “9 Airports, 1 Day: Chronicling an Incredibly Long But Successful Day

  1. If there is 1 other place I could think of that this would be possible. It would have to flying southwest through all the secondary cities in Texas. They have built up enough focus cities there, it could be possible to do a chain of airports without touching the same one twice. Great work cranky!

    1. Izzy – I think the problem with Texas is the cities are too far apart to be able to do it in one day. I mean, El Paso, Lubbock, and Amarillo (or at least one or two of them) would be needed and that adds a lot of flight time. I’m also not sure if there is enough connectivity between all those cities to make it work.

      1. I just tried crunching the numbers or Texas. Not even close to possible based on scheduled service. Amarillo only flies to DAL, Corpus Christi only flies to HOU, and Harlingen and Midland only fly to a couple of cities. Heck, Dallas Love Field should be considered a hub, but you can only fly from there to 7 of the other 9 cities. No way to do this in Texas. California was the only option because of all the short north-south flights. BUT I bet the Eastern Seaboard between Portland, ME and Norfolk, VA (14 cities total) might have the potential for 9 flights/10 airports.

  2. Not sure why you put the sic after 8 on the LA Times article. They’re correct. You only flew TO 8 airports.

    1. My guess is CF is following proper convention of writing all numbers under 10, (i.e. two, seven) and above 10 use the actual numbers. I agree, however I brought this up to a coworker (who was writing a release or blog post) and she was adamant that “numbers below 10” are ok in copy for headlines, and my rule was too formal. Perhaps the LA Times agrees with her.

      1. Except that this blog post’s title is

        “9 Airports, 1 Day: …”

        So I do think that Cranky would be sic’ing the LA Times for using the number 8.

  3. Is this only possible on WN due to their culture of the quick turn? I’d think doing 8 flights/day would be possible on other airlines (maybe not one state) but seeing how long it takes AA, UA, DL to turn flights might burn too much time. Thoughts?

    1. A – I think 8 flights in one day is possible on a lot of airlines. But being able to never touch the same airport twice? That requires a more point to point network and the big guys would be very hard-pressed to do it. Doing it within one state? That’s even harder.

  4. Can you include in your series how much of a beating your body took over the course of these flights?

    1. William – I talk about it a little, but I didn’t really feel it until the second half of the day. It was more exhausting than anything.

  5. I think it is “garbage” to conclude there is a need for power outlets based on a day flying eight segments. You are probably the only WN pax to ever do that.

    1. I don’t know. I’ve done GSP –> MDW –> LAX with them as my “long haul” (?) Southwest journey when I was with a different employer. My wife gobbled up the free TV flying out with me, and her battery was also gobbled. . . For intra-Califronia flying I do admit its not an issue.

      1. I have a small battery pack that can recharge my iPad twice (or my phone several times). It cost me $30 several years ago and I never worry about being out of power. Why rely on someone else when I can be self sufficient? I also have a smaller one that is best when I am out and about with just a phone (sightseeing, for example, relying on Google maps to find my way around). I never stress about finding a working power outlet

  6. Looking forward to your comments on your leg from SNA to SJC!! It was a pleasure to have you on the flight and thanks again for your kick tail of 500 on the spot swag points!! “Shhhhhhhhh, the rich people are sleeping below us”!!

    Thanks again!!
    Bob Noll F/A SWA

  7. “””””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.”””””

    You said a lot right there. There are good sized states where you can’t even fly between any cities within the state. Same with states with a hub, you may be able to fly from smaller cities to the hub city, but still not between cities. That sure wasn’t that way years ago, so you can see how things have changed.

  8. I loved seeing the contrast of landing in the marine layer and then taking off in blue sky at Oakland.

  9. Just curious, do you know how many flights a day are required to have a station be staffed by southwest and not contracted out?

  10. If only all of the flights had been the same flight number, a situation I’m sure some airlines will be considering down the road, this would be the classic example of what someone like UA likes to call a “direct flight,” LGB to LAX, with, yes, a few “change-of-gauge” flights here and there, but as long as the flight number is the same for each and every sector…heaven help us!

  11. i remember being a flight attendant for a regional doing 6 flights a day… It reduces your life expectancy…

  12. Since there were still delays, it doesn’t appear to have affected anything, but how might it have gone if you hadn’t alerted Southwest PR?

    It’d be fun to try this in Hawaii, but since there are no nonstops from Kauai to the Big Island, you’d have to double up at HNL or OGG. This would also require using Hawaiian’s Ohana subsidiary to get to Lanai and Molokai.

    1. Al – Well the first delay in Sacramento wouldn’t have changed at all. That plane was late, they turned it around and that was that. Fortunately I had enough buffer on my next leg to account for it. The last three delays were all on the same airplane. My guess is that had I not alerted Southwest PR about it, there’s a good chance the last flight home from SF would have been canceled instead. But that’s the only flight that would have been impacted.

  13. While exhausting and it didn’t totally earn the Companion Pass by itself (one more trip required as you stated), it is a hell of lot easier than earning 110,000 Rapid Rewards points every calendar year like most people earn Companion Passes. We’ve done it for five straight years but it requires a lot of flying (we average 15 to 20 round-trips annually), a lot of rental cars with one of their partners, a lot of hotel stays with partner hotels with change of hotels as much as possible to earn 600 points per stay, and a lot of spending on the Southwest Chase Visa card. We charge everything on the card from my $1.02 nightly senior coffee at Mickey D’s to our car insurance, water bill, gas bill, cell service, landline-DSL service, and everything else where Visa is used. Your total cost for the marathon day plus another round-trip will probably be under $1000 which is like a BB in a boxcar compared to what regular companion pass seekers have to spend annually to earn the pass. But I can’t think of a finer airline to fly on as much as we do. Out of five years of flying we have only encountered delayed flights three times and one of those was weather-related and only two hours late. When we flew Delta it was like 50% of our flights were delayed so we made a wonderful switch to Southwest for all our flying.

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