A Missed MAX Opportunity on Southwest (Trip Report)

It was time for the annual Boyd conference once again, but this time the event moved further east to Denver. One thing I do like about Denver is that there are a ton of flights on a bunch of airlines, so I always get to do something interesting. I’ve flown Southwest plenty of times, so it may seem strange that I settled on the airline for the roundtrip this time, but there was a good reason. One, I could fly from Long Beach on the way out, and two, I could get on my first MAX flight on the way home… or so I thought.

The flight out was timed perfectly for me to sleep normally, hang out with the kids, and then still get in at a good time into Denver. And when Long Beach is an option, it will nearly always win. (Sadly, it’s still a weekend-only flight, so it wasn’t an option on the way home.) For the return, even though the conference was done Tuesday, I saw that the Rockies were back in town starting that night. I’m a baseball fan and I’ve never been to Coors Field, so that was a no-brainer. On the return, I didn’t want to wait until early afternoon, but I figured it would be easy enough to work in Denver and then wait so I could get on my first MAX ride. That was a mistake.

I have been testing a site called Airline Check Ins to auto-check me in, but this time, it failed. I have no idea why, but it meant that by the time I checked, the best I could do was B27. That was actually better than I thought I’d get, so I correctly guessed the flight wasn’t going to be all that full.

The next morning, my family gave me a ride to the airport. As usual, we left home an hour before departure. I had the boarding pass in my browser on my phone, but once I pulled it up, it tried to reload. After that point, I couldn’t access the Southwest site at all. (I tried SWABIZ too.) Just kept getting this:

So I went back into the crowded ticket counter area and printed a hard copy. I noticed that one of the nooks across from the ticket counter has been converted to a bag check for Hawaiian. It is getting really tight in there, and the new ticketing building they’re going to build will help a lot.

Security was empty on the Pre Check side, but I did get flagged for a random check. The guy working the metal detector simply swabbed my palms and let me through. I headed to the gate. The old Long Beach skyline photo that covered the window is gone. It’s been replaced by an orange-colored ad that gives the concourse quite a tint.

When I arrived, boarding still hadn’t begun. The agent said they were waiting for the crew. The crew did show up and boarding began a bit late, but with only about 100 people onboard it wasn’t a lengthy process.

I lined up at B27 but I found it very strange that the couple of groups of 5 in front of me were almost entirely empty (save one person). Either people didn’t know how to board on Southwest or there were mass cancellations, I assume.

People were boarding front and back stairs, and the half dozen people before me went back. So I went front. I enjoyed the view of the Delta Embraer 175 on the way in. The CRJs disappeared in the last year or so.


August 19, 2018
Southwest 5818 Lv Long Beach 1020a Arr Denver 135p
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 2, Runway 30, Depart On Time
Denver (DEN): Gate C24, Runway 35L, Arrive 10m Early
N7886A, Boeing 737-752, Hot Dog on a Stick colors, 70% Full
Seat 7F, Coach
Flight Time 1h54m

Onboard, I had no trouble finding a window. In fact, row 7 had just one woman in the aisle pretending she wasn’t paying attention. I had to tap her to get in and she looked surprised, as if I was completely putting her out to bother letting me into the row. It still worked out well for her when the middle remained open.

There was a tiny dog in the row ahead, and he didn’t seem too happy judging by the whining and yapping. Eventually he calmed down.

The flight attendant announcing the safety briefing was funny, announcing the others as his ex-wife and current girlfriend. (The ex-wife “is the happy one.”) He had some of the usual Southwest jokes, but he had some new material as well (at least new to me). It takes a lot to get me laughing, but when he said to fix your hair after putting your life vest on since CNN would definitely be there, I did laugh out loud. He got quite the rousing round of applause when he was done.

It was a short taxi as always and we quickly turned south past the ports of LA and Long Beach before circling back around, as usual.

Once at altitude it was a smooth ride toward Colorado. They handed out pretzels and I had some water. Then I flipped on the Live TV and watched the rest of the movie Spy on FX. There were a few scattered clouds along the way, but somewhere over Northern Arizona those were replaced with a thick brown haze from the wildfires through the Western US.  You can see where that happened below.

Coming over the front range, there were a few clouds that dotted the horizon, and we found ourselves skimming the tops as we descended. Once past the mountains, I could see storms off in the distance to the northeast, but we didn’t get near those.

We landed a few minutes early.

Denver weather is truly confusing. We may have barely touched a cloud the entire way in, but by the time we got to the gate, it had started sprinkling and clouds surrounded us on all sides.

After I got back to the main terminal, I walked over to the new train line and headed into town. Thirty five minutes later I was at Union Station and the skies were mostly clear once again. (I say “mostly” because that wildfire smoke was around Denver as well. I never saw the mountains the entire time I was there.)

It was a hectic couple days in Denver. I always try to maximize my time at these types of events, so I just push myself hard. I did stay an extra night so I could squeeze in a Rockies game (I’d never seen a game at Coors Field before). The next day I had breakfast with a friend and then took the train into the airport once again.

That automated check-in thing had failed once again, but I was quicker to do it manually this time. I had B37 which was perfectly good since I was on a bigger airplane this time. After I got off the train, I wandered around the new Westin hotel to see how it looked. (It looked nice, unsurprisingly.) I walked in to the terminal and pulled up my boarding pass on my phone. The Pre Check line was short, so I had a lot of time to kill.

Southwest has wrapped its branding all over this airport.  This was at the train stop from the main terminal toward the concourses.

I headed up to the mezzanine on top of the C gates, found a seat, and logged on to wifi. I started poking around and found that my anticipated first MAX ride was thwarted. Southwest had subbed a 737-800 in its place. Bummer.


August 22, 2018
Southwest 805 Lv Denver 1p Arr Los Angeles 235p
Denver (DEN): Gate C47, Runway 34L Depart 2m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 18B, Runway 24R, Arrive 19m Early
N8655D, Boeing 737-8H4, Hot Dog on a Stick colors, ~75% Full
Seat 22A, Coach
Flight Time 1h59m

Boarding started on time, and I asked if the flight was full as my boarding pass was scanned. The agent said it was. I just hoped I’d have a window. Once onboard, the flight attendant told the people in front of me that they could spread out since there were supposed to be about 50 open seats. Talk about a disconnect.

I headed back until I found an empty window behind the wing, 22A. Sure enough, the flight attendant proved to be right and there were plenty of empty seats, including the middle next to me.  I looked around and realized this plane was pretty scuffed up under the bins.

We taxied out on time and the pilots said that it would be bumpy on the climb over the front range, but then it would smooth out. The climb actually wasn’t bumpier than normal, but he kept the flight attendants in their seats until we made it all the way over the Rockies into Utah. (The seatbelt sign, however, never went off the whole flight.)

The clouds parted as we skirted the corner of Utah and there was a great view of the Mars-like terrain below.

The flight attendants came through and handed out Wheat Thins and pretzels. I had a glass of water. Soon we were in Arizona, and the monsoon storms had built up all around us. We weaved our way around the storms and had some spectacular views.

As we approached the Colorado River, the clouds parted. You can see the river snaking below in this shot looking toward the southeast.

Our descent began soon after, and our gate was ready when we landed. It was a perfectly fine experience, but I was bummed about not getting the MAX. Oh well, something tells me there will be plenty of those flying for many years to come.

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12 Responses to A Missed MAX Opportunity on Southwest (Trip Report)

  1. Cranky, I hope you will write a report about the Boyd conference, you attended, here in Denver recently.
    From what I see, Southwest only flies a single one way non stop trip from DEN to LGB, and vice versa, on Sat. and Sun., not weekdays. The one way non stop DEN to LGB fare on Sat. 22 Sept. is currently $ 52. DEN departure at 3:15 pm.

  2. Wany says:

    Hi Cranky, how do you get the information about what types of aircraft Southwest is scheduled to use for a specific flight? I can never find that information when booking flights with them. Did I miss the giant MAX somewhere on their website? Thanks

    • Reed Thayer says:

      On the flight selection page, if you click on the flight number, it will tell you. Need to he on the full site.

    • CF says:

      Wany – I also have access to Sabre, so it’s filed in there. Easiest for me to see that way.

  3. Wild Bill says:

    CF,
    Try flying an American Airlines 737MAX! I avoid it at all costs. The seats are very uncomfortable and after every flight my back is very sore. If I can’t get on an AA Airbus or other types I book elsewhere. It’s unfortunate because I am an EXPLAT (6’1″ 212 pounds) but but physical health is more important than status. Also, good luck using the labs on this plane!

  4. Xnuiem says:

    I recently had a DAL->DEN flight on a WN Max. My whole family commented. The interior was nice, the Sky one, and all, but the big difference was how much quieter the cabin was.

    The comment about the seatbelt sign, no surprised. I just flat ignore them at this point on domestic airlines. On AA recently, SNA->DFW 3+ hour flight, the sign never turned off and it was smooth enough that I could have built a card castle.

  5. Southwest may be brute force blocking AutoCheckIn, which presumably operates from Germany. I got a similar message from Europe recently, requiring me to set up a VPN.

    • CF says:

      nsx – I’ve used it before and it worked fine. (It didn’t check in very quickly, but it worked.) So I just assume there’s some issue with the import tool. That or Southwest heard about it and shut it down.

  6. Glad to hear there are still some funny Southwest flight attendants out there. I always find it refreshing; nice change of pace. We had one on a flight from SLS-LAS this summer and he had the whole plane in stitches, including the CNN joke. Thanks for another interesting trip report!

  7. I’ve been scheduled as a crew member in the MAX at least 10 or somflights since they came to SWA. EVERY time, it has been subbed for an -800. Flew the MAX once, on a leg that was originally and -800. They only have 12, so when they get driving now. their lines, it’s harder to get them back where there supposed to be. Bummed I’m missing Dorkfest by a day this year…..

  8. Alex gomez says:

    Hi Cranky, I recently had a DAL->DEN flight on a WN Max. My whole family commented. The interior was nice, the Sky one, and all, but the big difference was how much quieter the cabin was.

    The comment about the seatbelt sign, no surprised. I just flat ignore them at this point on domestic airlines. On AA recently, SNA->DFW 3+ hour flight, the sign never turned off and it was smooth enough that I could have built a card castle.

  9. steve says:

    Every time I get a replay of the WN stage patter pre flight, Im reminded why I put up with other airlines. Ugh.

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