Last week, I covered my first four flights on my quest to hit 9 California airports in one day. Now, it’s finally time to finish this up.
I was tired after four flights, and I had just landed in Orange County with a tight connection ahead. Let’s pick it up with me walking off the airplane there.
The airport was humming when I got off, apparently walking right by the assistant station manager Debbie. She caught up to me and walked me over to my connecting gate. She was nice enough to not only have worried about that gate, but she gave me a business card with the rest of my day’s gates as well.
Debbie mentioned she knew I had a son, so she gave me a metal Southwest airplane for him. Alongside some snacks, she also gave me an Orange County hat which I squeezed into my backpack. I was running out of room.
Over at the next gate, boarding was just about to begin. I started a Busker live stream when I was told I’d get to pre-board again. So I just brought the stream down on the airplane with me.
August 9, 2016
Southwest 2370 Lv Orange County 430p Arr San Jose 540p
Orange County (SNA): Gate 17, Runway 20R, Depart 3m Early
San Jose (SJC): Gate 19, Runway 30R, Arrive 4m Early
N940WN, Boeing 737-7H4, Canyon Blue Colors, 90% Full
Seat 2F, Coach
Flight Time 53m
Onboard, I realized this would be my first (and only) flight where I couldn’t get seat 4F. Someone was there from a previous leg, so I took 2F instead.
The pilots came on and gave the usual “take-offs are weird here” speech. Noise abatement rules, thanks to the rich people below the departure path, require throttling up, launching into the air, and then quickly cutting back power to reduce noise until over the water.
Our flight attendant Bob was funny and had plenty of jokes to crack, but it was on the climb out that he had me laughing out loud. As soon as the throttles were cut back after departure, he just kept saying “Shhhhh, there are rich people down there. They’re sleeping.” Only the first couple rows could hear him, but it was hysterical. One of the passengers started to say something to him, and Bob cut him off. “Not now. Shhhhh. In about 1 minute.”
After 4 flights, it was time for a drink. I had a Wild Turkey on the rocks and that gave me a second wind. For some reason the flight attendants didn’t take my drink coupon. I was feeling that drink a little more than I expected, but I was in a much better place than I was on the previous flight.
Once we landed, I gave Bob one of the “On the Spot” cards I had been given in Oakland to thank him for being so funny. Then I walked in the terminal.
My greeting at San Jose was the most impressive (and embarrassing) of them all. One of the agents yelled at the top of her lungs, and everyone within a 2 gate radius took notice. Of course, nobody had any idea who I was or why I was there. I was also given some local wine and some wine glasses engraved with @crankyflier on them.
Southwest’s station manager, Robert (right), and Jon (left) from the airport both greeted me. There was a bunch more swag in San Jose, but this time there was a big duffel waiting for me to carry everything. I was definitely pushing the carry-on limit now. The airport had been tweeting me all day, asking if I wanted dinner. I was even given a choice over Twitter, so Jon met me with a salad and threw in some fries. Mmmm.
Jon was game for a little live streaming, so we sat down and chatted. I originally had a little over an hour in San Jose but my next flight was delayed another half hour, so I had plenty of time to kill.
When the delay first posted earlier in the day, I was nervous. It was always supposed to be the same airplane taking me from San Jose to Burbank and then up to San Francisco, but then I had only 20 minutes to connect to my last flight home. With this delay, I’d be sunk. I started to make plans to hop off the airplane in Burbank so I didn’t get stuck overnight in San Francisco.
That’s when I got lucky. There were 737-300 mechanical issues earlier in the day, and that left Southwest scrambling to figure out how to handle that last flight down to LA. The solution? Use that same airplane that I was flying up to San Francisco. Was this swap done to make it easy on me? That may have been the case. But the alternative may have been a cancellation since it appears there were legitimate mechanical problems. I’m not entirely sure. Either way, when the new-liveried airplane pulled up in San Jose, I knew I’d be riding it all the way to LA. I could no longer miss a connection.
Again, I was allowed to pre-board.
August 9, 2016
Southwest 3136 Lv San Jose 650p Arr Burbank 750p
San Jose (SJC): Gate 22, Runway 30R, Depart 27m Late
Burbank (BUR): Gate A4, Runway 8, Arrive 20m Late
N568WN, Boeing 737-76N, Hot Dog on a Stick Colors, 75% Full
Seat 4F, Coach
Flight Time 45m
This particular flight didn’t feel too full, and I had an empty middle. The crew was friendly, and with wifi still not functioning all that well, I spent most of the flight watching the spectacular sunset.
The second wind I had on that flight up to San Jose was now long gone. With a full belly, I was fading fast. My mind drifted back to the idea of just getting off the airplane in Burbank, but I knew I had to push on. And I had plenty of people rooting me on. Thanks to everyone on Twitter for the support.
We landed at Burbank, and I went to deplane into the terminal. On the way out, the flight attendant, James, said “hope to see you again soon” to everyone as they walked off. I said “yeah, in 5 minutes.” He was confused, so I explained what I was doing and he thought it was a great plan. James brought out one of the other flight attendants, Angela, and told her. They both wanted to make sure I knew that they were the best crew all day. (At least, that’s what they told me.)
They let me leave my big duffel bag on the airplane, which was helpful. Meanwhile I just went down into the terminal.
Nico the station manager was there along with an agent Romi. I hadn’t flown out of Burbank in years, but the terminal still looks the same. They seem to be getting closer to building a new one, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
When I walked in they had a big shopping bag for me full of stuff. Now I was clearly well over the carry-on limit, but nobody cared. This particular bag of swag was full of goodies from Burbank itself, not just Southwest. There were Mickey Mouse dolls, tickets to Universal Studios, and the Warner Bros studio tour. There was even a free night at the Burbank Marriott.
I was barely in the terminal when they took my boarding pass and let me back onboard before general boarding began.
August 9, 2016
Southwest 3188 Lv Burbank 815p Arr San Francisco 935p
Burbank (BUR): Gate A4, Runway 15, Depart 22m Late
San Francisco (SFO): Gate 30, Runway 28LR, Arrive xm Late
N568WN, Boeing 737-76N, Hot Dog on a Stick Colors, 25% Full
Seat 4F, Coach
Flight Time 52m
The vibe changed completely on this flight. It was no longer the hustle and bustle of an afternoon commuter flight. The sun had set, there were more than 100 open seats, and it just felt really late. The pilots came on and said that we were on a short air traffic control delay. Gee, thanks SFO. Our “wheels up” time was 8:52pm.
While we sat on the ground, the flight attendants came through and offered peanuts. I flipped on a Busker live stream. Nobody seemed to be in a big hurry, but we were released early. We shot up into the still night air at 8:46pm.
The flight attendants came through to take drink orders, and I had another Wild Turkey, trying to channel the spirit of Herb Kelleher to get through these last two flights. I used the drink coupon they gave me in Sacramento. This time, I didn’t get another burst of energy. I just got tired and mellow.
I also really started to focus in on my hamstrings. A full day of sitting in those slimline seats had really done a number on me. I still can’t believe that Southwest isn’t going to replace those seats on most existing aircraft.
We began descending into San Francisco when the woman next to me heard her phone ringing. Did she just ignore it? Of course not. She answered it and began speaking loudly in a foreign language. Nobody stopped her.
We lined up next to a United aircraft for a parallel landing into SFO and had a short taxi to our gate.
I may have been tired, but the team in San Francisco? They were on fire. I walked into the jet bridge to hear them singing a song welcoming me. This was some high energy stuff and it briefly woke me up. (I got it on a live stream if you’d like to see.)
These guys gave me a little gift bag of Ghirardelli chocolate. I went up to the use the bathroom in the nearly-deserted terminal. When I came back, I paused for a second upon feeling a twinge of nostalgia. This old terminal is where America West used to fly back when I worked there. I had many happy memories in this old building.
I went back up to the gate where the team was hanging out waiting to board. They just let me get right back on the airplane and reclaim good ole’ seat 4F.
August 9, 2016
Southwest 2550 Lv San Francisco 955p Arr LAX 1115p
San Francisco (SFO): Gate 30, Runway 1LR, Depart 16m Late
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 11A, Runway 24R, Arrive 14m Late
N568SW, Boeing 737-76N, Hot Dog on a Stick Colors, 20% Full
Seat 4F, Coach
Flight Time 51m
We had new flight attendants for this leg, and they seemed pretty junior. They were in a good mood despite the late hour.
This flight was even emptier than the pretty-empty flight before, and we seemed to be ready to go quickly. (It’s easy to turn an airplane with 30 people on it.) But for whatever reason, we waited around for a bit.
For the first time that day, I had my own row. We pushed back and took off like a rocket for the last leg home. I was now exhausted but also antsy. I could feel how close we were.
On this leg, I didn’t want food or drink. I just had a bottle of water and typed some thoughts on my computer.
It was a little bumpy on the way up, but we found smooth air waaay up there at 41,000 feet. It stayed that way until just before we began descending. Despite the moon being out, we had a great view of the stars. On the way into LA, the endless lights were broken up by the splotchy return of the marine layer.
When we finally landed, I was so happy to be back. Of course, LAX greeted me in the only way possible. We waited for ten minutes before we were even allowed to cross the inner runway. Then we took forever weaving around and taxiing back. We finally pulled into a gate (not the one that was posted) right next to one of the gold airplanes honoring Southwest’s original colors.
Everyone else got off first, and I gathered all of my swag.
After thanking the first officer who was standing at the exit, I made my way to the top of the jet bridge. I did not expect this.
At the top, the LAX employees had put together a finish line. There were pom poms, decorations, and an actual tape that I had to cross like I was running a race. On the other side, they had printed a giant companion pass on cardboard with my name on it. Oh, and there was a bottle of champagne.
This was no easy feat. They switched gates soon before we arrived, so they had to pull it down and re-set it at our new gate. Kudos to the team at LAX.
I live streamed this, and then it was time to call it a night. Walking out past security, Terminal 1 was quiet as a mouse and all closed up for the night.
I got a Lyft and headed back home to Long Beach, sliding into my bed just before 1am, completely exhausted but still smiling from one crazy day. It wasn’t until the next day that I realized just how much swag I had collected.
For those coming to Dorkfest on September 17, get ready. There will be lots of Southwest swag for you to take.
While this day was fun, I am pretty sure I don’t need to do something like this again. Then again, next time I’ll be able to bring my wife along for almost nothing.