A Southwest 737-300 Surprise (Trip Report)

Southwest, Trip Reports

I’ve had so many trips lately that I’ve tried to spread out my reports so that you don’t get bored. This one was the short hop to Vegas for the Sabre Airline Technology Exchange a couple weeks back. The surprise of getting a 737-300 in both directions made for a fun and nostalgic experience, but the delay on the return… not so fun.

[Disclosure: Sabre paid for my travel]

Sabre wanted me to fly in Monday afternoon and back Thursday morning, so that’s what I did. I told them I wanted to fly from Long Beach, so I was surprised when they pitched Southwest considering while I was there Southwest would be officially leaving Sabre for its internal reservations system. (Meanwhile, the other airline on the route with more frequency, JetBlue, uses it.) On the return, there was nothing at the conference for me in the morning, so the 11:10am departure they pitched seemed late. I asked if I could go earlier but they said there was nothing. That’s true on Southwest but there was an earlier JetBlue flight which I just assumed wasn’t an option. I didn’t have any urgent commitments back home other than normal work, so I wasn’t about the push the issue. If they wanted me on Southwest, that was fine.

I checked in 24 hours prior to my flight out and got pass A27 which correctly led me to believe this flight was empty. After that, I watched as Southwest kept swapping my airplane. At one point the flight was delayed over an hour but they found another plane. Soon enough, it settled back down but with a twist; I’d be on an old 737-300. Considering Southwest will be retiring all of these by the end of September, I was excited.

I left home 50 minutes before departure and still had time to kill at the gate after a quick pass through the Pre Check line. Our airplane pulled up late but that wasn’t a problem.

Since the flight was so empty, boarding was quick. I walked up the back stairs and had to take the obligatory airplane porn shot on the way out. Those gray canoe fairings (covering the flap mechanisms under the wing) are the best way to know you’re on a 737-300 in the old colors.

I found a pretty tired-looking airplane on the inside. But it would certainly do just fine.

May 8, 2017
Southwest 6006 Lv Long Beach 355p Arr Las Vegas 455p
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 2, Runway 30, Depart 1m Early
Las Vegas (LAS): Gate C14, Runway 25L, Arrive 8m Late
N634SW, Boeing 737-3H4, Canyon Blue colors, ~35% Full
Seat 13A, Coach
Flight Time 47m

We had a very perky flight attendant up front with what sounded like a Texas drawl. She gave a lengthy announcement saying that we’d be getting First Class service because there were so few people on board. Sure enough, I think there were maybe 3 or 4 of us behind the wing.

We did push back on time and made our way to the runway. There was a slight delay waiting for takeoff as a JetBlue flight went around us. But soon we were rolling, and I was reminded just how loud the 737-300 is behind the wing.

Once in the air, we circled around over the port as usual.

Light chop began almost immediately and it stuck around the entire flight. The flight attendants came by and passed out drinks and peanuts. I had a Wild Turkey since Southwest keeps sending me more drink coupons for some unknown reason and I can’t use them fast enough.

The seatbelt sign never came off thanks to the chop, but no matter. Soon we were on descent into Vegas anyway. Vegas weather was nice, but as usual it was bumpy. We were headed east to what I assumed would be out to Lake Mead before looping around, but there must have been room in the pattern. The pilots dropped the gear, extended the flaps and hung a left as they pointed us down for a firm landing.

I was off and did a quick look back. The 737-300 looked pretty good from this angle.

I went into the airport for a welcome the way only Vegas can give.

Then I was off to the conference. If you missed my post about Sabre’s event, you can see it here.

After a productive week, it was time to fly home. I checked in and got boarding pass A56 and then looked to find that once again I would be on a 737-300. Cool. The car was arranged to pick me up 2 hours before departure, and with no traffic I was at the airport in no time. It has been a really long time since I last flew out of Terminal 1 in Vegas, so I hadn’t realized just how much work had been done.

Now if you’re flying Southwest, you can go to the far eastern end of the terminal and there’s an escalator that goes up to a new (for me) checkpoint. There was no line for Pre Check, so when I asked, the agent told me to just get in line. Then when I was putting my bags on the belt, I figured they’d just give out passes to people with Pre Check so no shoes had to come off. Instead, after I asked, the agent said “Everybody’s Pre Check.” Well ok then.

Some people were in line for the body scanner, but there was also a metal detector and no direction was given on which to use. I followed someone over to the metal detector but another person went to the scanner line. Just then, an agent barked at that guy in his New York accent “What are you doin’ over there?! That’s not the line!” That guy looked a bit flustered by the unnecessary shouting and then came over to our line.

On the other side, I found that you could either walk left to the C gates (previously you had to take the tram from the main terminal) or you could walk right to the old A and B gates. With a ton of time to kill, I walked right to go check it out. I do love the unique old-timey feel of that main area past security in Terminal 1.

I walked to the end of each concourse (except for the high A one, which is closed) and noticed a 737-300 sitting out on the ramp, away from the terminal, with its engine cowling open. Uh oh. I don’t think there are still any 737-300s regularly scheduled in Vegas, so I figured this was my airplane. And it looked like it had problems.

I started to wander back and then just about an hour before departure, the delay notification came through. It’d be an extra hour. I made it back to the gate and the agent came on to tell us that the airplane was broken and they were trying to fix it. More later.

I thought about just buying a ticket on the JetBlue flight at 12:07pm since it was only $98.20, but I hesitated. Then when I had thought to make the move, I was too late. Apparently JetBlue has a 60 minute check in cutoff in Vegas which is a bummer because I could have made it with ease. But on the other hand, it would have been wasted money.

Around 11:15am, the gate agent announced that the plane was fixed, we were ready, and the gate had been changed to C24 so we should all head over. That was good news indeed even though the walk from C7 to C24 is actually pretty far. I got quite the workout that morning.

I didn’t hurry to get there, and by the time I arrived I found a really full gate area thanks to a crowd of frustrated Iowans (politely, of course) waiting for a delayed flight to Des Moines. There was no airplane there, however, for either of our flights. I found a corner of carpet and took a seat. At around 11:45am, I hadn’t heard any announcements. I took a look and we still had no airplane. I overhead an agent saying they hoped the airplane would be there in the next 10 minutes, but he didn’t seem entirely confident about that. Fortunately he was right, and the airplane was towed over to the gate, arriving at 11:55am.

May 11, 2017
Southwest 6010 Lv Las Vegas 1110a Arr Long Beach 1215p
Las Vegas (LAS): Gate C24, Runway 25R, Depart 1h21m Late
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 2, Runway 30, Arrive 1h16m Late
N633SW, Boeing 737-3H4, Canyon Blue colors, ~90% Full
Seat 8A, Coach
Flight Time 42m

They boarded us as quickly as possible even though this flight was pretty full. Once onboard, I heard a couple of people talking about how they were nervous about making their cruise thanks to the delay. Carnival operates booze cruises down to Ensenada every week out of the Port of Long Beach. There were others onboard who seemed to be in the same predicament, but then I heard someone else who knows Long Beach calm them down by explaining just how quick and easy it would be for them once they arrived.

I took my window seat slightly further forward this time and found the noise much lower. We taxied out and took off to the west. As is always the case in Vegas, we bumped our way up to 10,000 feet and then it smoothed out for the ride home. I didn’t want a drink on this flight, and instead I just stared out the window at the landscape as we crossed over the desert and the San Bernardino mountains before descending over the LA Basin.

We landed and you could just see the looks on people’s faces when they were able to walk down the ramp (or stairs in the back). There were a lot of adults looking like excited kids as they came out into the warm sunshine. There’s nothing quite like the arrival at a peaceful place like Long Beach Airport to make you forget about an annoying delay.

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16 comments on “A Southwest 737-300 Surprise (Trip Report)

  1. I will miss the737-300. I find the seats on the -300 are much more comfortable than the newer, and newest (slimline and slim armrest) seats on the -700 and -800.

    1. Is SWA still planning to retire the ‘old’ 737s (several dozen, IIRC) all at once on a single day in October?

  2. I should add: I copied your pic of the ski areas and posted it on the Snowjournal discussion board (I credited you in full – let me know if you don’t approve and I’ll remove it immediately) for help in identifying the ski areas. That pic was superb!

    1. Marc – Yes, that’s Big Bear Lake. You can see the Big Bear Airport sticking out at the left end of the lake there.

      1. So you passed to the north of the lake…. then would that be Mt San Gorgonio in the far distance?

  3. I flew on a 737-300 on Southwest from BNA-MCO last week. The FA called it a “vintage aircraft,” which was pretty funny.

    1. If a dog is working the line, everyone is considered pre-screened, and the line operates as PreCheck. They do this at SAN T2 West regularly.

  4. FWIW, I think you still can buy tickets at the gate for JetBlue if you are willing to pay the “in-person convenience fee” of $25, as I’ve done at IAD when I misconnected on UA.

    1. ptahcha – Interesting. Of course, I would have had to walk back to the train, take the train back to the main terminal and then take the other train out to the D gates, then walk underground to the JetBlue gates on Terminal 3. It would have been easy to make it with just under an hour, but not being sure if I could actually do it, it wouldn’t have been worth it. Of course, I can say that now knowing our airplane wasn’t delayed much longer than expected.

    2. I have had personal experience with this at LAS as well. Bought the ticket at the gate right before they started boarding. I can’t say whether or not i paid a convenience fee, as the agent was in a rush trying to process my ticket on one computer and clear the flight on another.

  5. Great report as always.
    What is the deal with the old A & B rotundas? I heard they were going to be razed…then overhauled…then partially razed.
    I love them….one of the last old school ‘airport’ facilities of my youth…before terminals because shopping centers.

    1. Eric A – I don’t know the latest update on those. They’re utilized pretty handily now with the exception of the high As which are walled off.
      They’re old and could probably use some love, but they function. Not sure what the long term plan is.

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