Thanks to American, I Flew Southwest and JetBlue to Portland (Trip Report)

Southwest, Trip Reports

This trip should have been simple. We were having our annual Cranky Concierge team gathering in Portland (Oregon) and American’s award space was wide open. Someone had offered me a Business Extra certificate that was going to expire, so I used that. Unfortunately, I never ended up setting foot on an American flight.

On February 3, American apparently had a schedule change that eliminated my morning flight north. The new first flight of the day? After 3pm. That wasn’t going to work, but there was a bigger problem. American didn’t bother sending me the email about the change until April 25 for some unknown reason. And then, to make things worse, I didn’t catch it. (This was because my wife was flying up on a later day when the morning flight was still operating, and I only looked at the minor schedule change for the return that was on her also-delayed email instead of catching the outbound change on mine.)

By the time I discovered it two weeks later, it was less than a week to go and I was scrambling to find an option to get me there in time. What’s worse is that if I couldn’t take the outbound, American wouldn’t let me keep my return. So, I settled for a full refund — American was kind enough to also refund my wife’s flights — and I was starting over from scratch.

On the way up, it came down to a Delta 717 from LAX or a Southwest flight with a stop but no change out of Long Beach. I turned to Twitter:

You were pushing me toward Delta, but I just couldn’t bring myself to deal with LAX if I didn’t need to. I spent $177 (or the equivalent in Southwest points) and took that one.

For the return, I could have just used miles to fly American back, but I was done with them for this trip. Instead, I decided to pony up the $191 and fly JetBlue straight back to Long Beach.

As usual, I checked in 24 hours before departure and got a good A49 boarding pass. (Flying out of Long Beach seems to make that happen. It’s like people haven’t figured out EarlyBird and aren’t A-List yet.) I left home an hour before departure. There was no line at security. (I swear, I should just make this boilerplate language every time I fly from Long Beach.)

On the other side, I made my way to gate 1 where I realized Southwest has really had to shoehorn itself into this area. The boarding groups take a 90 degree turn halfway through, and it is cramped. Our flight wasn’t all that full, but people were still trying to squeeze their way into position.

The Sacramento flight boarding area makes you feel like you’re flying into DC. There are a lot of suits heading up to the state capital, including on this flight, a former mayor of Long Beach.

It was time to board when the woman in front of me turned around and said “is this the priority line?” I looked a little confused, and then saw her boarding pass said B53. I told her she had to wait until they called the B group. I’m guessing she hadn’t flown Southwest before, though I don’t know why she would think she could use a priority line.

May 14, 2019
Southwest 1157 Lv Long Beach 730a Arr Sacramento 850a
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 1, Runway 30, Depart 5m Early
Sacramento (SMF): Gate B17, Runway 16L, Arrive 8m Early
N419WN, Boeing 737-7H4, Hot Dog on a Stick Colors, ~70% Full
Seat 3A, Coach
Flight Time 1h1m

I went up the ramp at the front, and once onboard, I saw seat 3A open. That looked like a good option to me. Boarding finished up early, and the flight attendants gave their spiel. We had a jokester on this flight, but possibly because of the early hour, it wasn’t over the top.

We headed to the runway on a May gray kind of day, and took off into the murk. I haven’t done a takeoff video in awhile, so I snapped this one. Be warned… it was a thick marine layer that day, so there’s a bit too much time just staring at gray clouds.

The flight attendants came through with drinks and pretzels, and I decided to play wifi roulette. Would it work? Incredibly, yes. I couldn’t get my VPN to connect, but at least the wifi was fast enough to use. Amazing.

With wifi functioning, the flight passed in a flash, and we descended on the early side. You could see clouds creeping in toward Sacramento as the first storm in awhile made its way on to the West Coast.

I always marvel at the way that flying into Sacramento looks like it could be the Midwest… except for the mountains in the distance. Farmland stretches for miles.

We landed on the easternmost runway since the western one looks to be closed for resurfacing. Then we taxied to the gate. Everyone got off except for a whopping 22 of us who were going through to Portland.

May 14, 2019
Southwest 1157 Lv Sacramento 925a Arr Portland 1055a
Sacramento (SMF): Gate B17, Runway 16L, Depart 1m Early
Portland (PDX): Gate C13, Runway 28L, Arrive 9m Early
N419WN, Boeing 737-7H4, Hot Dog on a Stick Colors, ~95% Full
Seat 3A, Coach
Flight Time 1h6m

When boarding began, a pre-boarder came and took the aisle in my row. She moved very slowly and had a white cane. When someone else came and asked to sit in the middle, this first woman asked if she’d rather she just move over into the middle to make it easy. That is possibly the kindest (and most insane) gesture I’ve ever seen.

The second woman sat down and they started talking. I heard something about how in her family they had adopted 6 children. Clearly I was sitting next to two of the nicest people ever to get on an airplane.

When the flight attendant came by with drinks, I passed. I didn’t want to have to go to the bathroom and make that sweet woman next to me get up. Instead I logged back on, and wifi was even faster than on the first flight. (Still, no VPN.)

We climbed up into the clouds and eventually poked our heads up just above the highest layer. Here’s my view of Mt Hood or maybe Mt Shasta or possibly Mt Pinatubo:

I couldn’t see anything the whole way up which is always a bummer when flying through this part of the country. But so be it. At least it was a smooth ride.

We started descending soon after we reached cruise, and the two new besties next to me were getting even closer. The woman on the aisle said she’d be happy to help the woman in the middle get out of the airplane and find her way. It was just a feel-good kind of flight.

After cutting through all the clouds, we landed and it was time to get to work. The weather was great for meetings… we almost never saw the sun the whole time, and it rained a lot. That being said, it was very productive, and more importantly, we had a great time. Nearly everyone packed up and left on Sunday, but I stayed one more night to see family and friends.

I did check in on Sunday, however, and I had hoped to finally get myself a seat. Only Even More Space seats were available when I booked, and I had no interest in paying $40 for more legroom than the already-generous regular coach seats. When I checked in, there was still nothing on the seat map, so I was told to get one at the airport. Alrighty.

I woke up at 4, finished packing and headed out to the airport, arriving right around 5. I pulled up my boarding pass to get through security when I realized I had been given a seat, 6D. I’m a window person, so this was obviously not ideal for me, but I couldn’t complain. I was surprised that this was a regular coach seat. They must block a couple rows that they don’t allow for advance assignment.

On the other side of security, I slowly strolled toward my gate when I heard increasingly-loud chatter. When I got to the gate, the sound was deafening. There was a huge group of high school kids who apparently didn’t realize how early it was. They were surprisingly chipper, and exceedingly loud. I briefly stopped to ask the gate agent if there were any window seats — there weren’t — and then I made a beeline for another gate where I could at least hear myself think.

Boarding began and apparently nobody listened to the group numbers. I was in the last group — E — and when they called me, there were maybe only 2 or 3 other people there.

May 20, 2019
JetBlue 1121 Lv Portland 6a Arr Long Beach 821a
Portland (PDX): Gate C6, Runway 28R, Depart 6m Early
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 7, Runway 30, Arrive 22m Early
N775JB, Airbus A320-232, “Vets in Blue” Colors, ~99% Full
Seat 6D, Coach
Flight Time 1h46m

I found a spot for my bag, sat down, and put on headphones. That didn’t block out the noise, however. These kids were not stopping just because they were on an airplane, and they decided they needed to all swap seats. For example, the kid next to me was excited and upset. See, he HAD to sit next to Mikey and Nate Dog, and he yelled that out several times to the chaperone many rows back. It was… not how I like to start my day. The flight attendants showed surprising restraint in dealing with them. Or as I said in a tweet later that day…

On the bright side, my in-seat video went rogue. I could watch any channel I wanted and it never froze when announcements were made. I also didn’t have to watch any of the pre-departure JetBlue stuff. Being able to avoid the Bonvoy ad was a highlight of the day. The only downside was that the map didn’t work at all.

We taxied out and took off to the west into the clouds. Then, we got above them, and I saw something I hadn’t seen in days… a big blue sky.

Things started off smoothly and the seatbelt sign went off. The flight attendants came by and I had a water. Then I turned on wifi and started working. Somewhere around California, the turbulence picked up and the seatbelt sign went on. The kids, however, couldn’t have cared less. They were standing in the aisles, talking, blocking the flight attendants, etc. It was maddening.

Fortunately for them, we never hit much more than light-moderate bumps, so they didn’t get smashed into the ceiling.

The winds were whipping and it was a very fast flight. We had to zig and zag multiple times, but it still took a mere 1 hour and 46 minutes. After descending over the ocean, we circled around and landed. I had one last look at our special livery, the “Vets in Blue” airplane.

Then I headed straight to the office.

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10 comments on “Thanks to American, I Flew Southwest and JetBlue to Portland (Trip Report)

  1. Re: Southwest, and its operating flights with intermediate en route stops, as your LGB to PDX flight with a stop at SMF.

    If you looked at all of Southwest’s city-pair marketed (not operated, but marketed) flights for a day, week, month, whatever, what percentage of them are scheduled to make and operate with one or more intermediate en route stops? I would expect the percentage to be quite high, far higher than that for any competing airline. Any data out there to show actual figures?

    Can you explain why Southwest markets service in such a way, meaning so often with a stop? Perhaps UA, AA, DL, and all the rest operate their flights the same as does Southwest but are simply less likely to choose to market service that makes stops?

    Of course, an airline like UA often operates change-of-gauge service, meaning with a stop and a change of plane, but keeping the same flight number, yet still calls it a “direct” flight, which Southwest, operating that way, would not do. It seems that to Southwest, an en route change of aircraft eliminates its right to call it a “direct” flight, no matter how you number the various segments of it. I agree with Southwest and find UA to be unacceptably deceptive!

    Any thoughts?

    1. jaybru – That’s the entire way Southwest has always built its schedules.
      In SoCal to the Pac NW, it’s particularly lucrative because people are willing to stop and not have much time added. Maybe this means there should be more nonstop service, or maybe it’s the lack of time zone change that makes the difference seem more bearable. I don’t know. But since Southwest distributes its network over many mid-size cities, it finds it better to run those airplanes through them instead of going out and back to a hub. This is helpful operationally and commercially. If it had a true hub and spoke structure this might make less sense, but even in its “hubs”
      of Chicago, Baltimore, etc, it still can get better efficiency running airplanes through like this.

  2. “See, he HAD to sit next to Mikey and Nate Dog”

    Actually laughed out loud haha. Sounds like a brutal flight!

    1. Similar experience here with suits when I went MDW-ONT with a stop in SMF.

      Also addressing combination above about WN’s one-stop schedules; the only MDW-ONT nonstop was an unsuitable* evening flight.

      * Pun intended

  3. Wise choice IMO to take a one-stopper from LGB (even more so if you’re returning a rental car or self-parking at LAX). When you figure your elapsed time leaving your home to your ultimate destination, a one-stop — or god forbid a connection — may get you there faster and with less fuss.

    On July 8th Delta inaugurated nonstop service (2 flights) between BUR and ATL in addition to its present flights to SLC. There’s an obvious demand for more use of satellite airports in the Los Angeles Basin.

  4. Sounds like the adults with those students were not doing their job of controlling them, so the FAs should have done their job to make sure they all stayed seated and not disturb the other passengers.

    Mikey and Nate Dog could have just toughed it out without their friend…..LOL

  5. C’mon Cranky, with American experiencing many cancellations and re-routings (737 MAX), and that these changes are done incrementally, a seasoned traveler as yourself should have monitored to see if your flights were affected.

    So, tell me again how “American screwed things up” for you?

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