Southwest Perfects Social Distancing With 9 People On Our Flight to Puerto Vallarta (Trip Report)

Southwest, Trip Reports

We had originally been planning to go to Hawai’i, but with the weather looking iffy and last minute fares elsewhere nice and cheap, we called an audible. Three days before travel, we opted to change to fly to Puerto Vallarta. Today I’ll talk about the empty flight down on Southwest from Orange County. Our return — my first flight in an American Oasis-configured 737 — will come later.

Fares were similar on all airlines from Orange County and LAX. We thought about Delta for the blocked middle, but then I realized EVERYONE had “blocked” middles… the flights were generally empty. In the end, we settled on Southwest for the points equivalent of $149 each out of Orange County.

I knew that Southwest had resumed flying to Puerto Vallarta from Orange County, but it seems clear not many others have gotten the message. Sure, we were flying down on an off-peak Monday, but that’s no excuse for an airplane that had a mere 9 passengers onboard, including the four of us.

It was a rainy morning, and with our flight leaving at 9, I was a little concerned that we’d need to leave early for traffic. A quick check, however, found none at all. We left the house at 715a and pulled up at the curb at about 10 ’til 8. The airport roadway was empty, as was the ticketing area.

An agent was standing there asking where we were going. We told her Puerto Vallarta and she said in a rushed tone that we only had 11 minutes to get checked in before the cutoff. Uh, ok. There was nobody there, so this wasn’t really a problem. At the counter, the agent checked our passports, tagged a bag, and we were off to the empty security line.

On the other side, we found our gate and, there was almost nobody there. Our 20+ year-old airplane had come in from Puerto Vallarta the night before, and it was looking good, resplendent in the special Nevada flag livery.

I walked up to the agent and asked how many people were on the flight, and she laughed and told me there were 10. The real reason I went up, however, was to ask if there was a duty free shop there, and she said there wasn’t. I had hoped to buy a bottle of whisky to keep me company for the week, but I had to save that for our arrival.

They called us for boarding without requiring anyone to line up by numbers, and as I walked on, I mentioned something to the family about the ten people onboard. The gate agent overheard me and said, “actually, it’s down to 9 now.” We were nearly half the onboard complement.


March 15, 2021
Southwest 763 Lv Orange County 9a Arr Puerto Vallarta 1245p
Orange County (SNA): Gate 13, Runway 20R, Depart 7m Early
Puerto Vallarta (PVR): Gate B9, Runway 22, Arrive 13m Early
N727SW, Boeing 737-7H4, Nevada Flag colors, 9/143 Onboard
Seat 5F, Coach
Flight Time 2h25m

We walked on the airplane and I told the kids to hurry up and get bin space because the flight was going to be really full. The flight attendant welcoming us onboard laughed. The captain was in the galley and saw my America West face mask and excitedly called it out. One of the other flight attendants did the same later. This senior Phoenix-based crew clearly had known that logo well over the years, and I was glad somebody still knew it.

My daughter wanted to sit next to my wife, but my son took his own row across from her. This was his official introduction the coach flat bed. I took the row in front of him. There was one other person in the bulkhead, an older couple who sat a few rows behind us, and then one other couple that took up residence behind the wing. That was it. You can actually see everyone except my daughter in this photo.

The flight attendants did the safety briefing but came through to individually explain to the kids that if they needed the oxygen mask, we would put ours on first and then help them. This promptly scared the crap out of my 7-year old daughter, as she began to really consider deeply why she’d need an oxygen mask at all.

All loaded up, we pushed back early and taxied our way through the rain to the runway.

In typical Orange County fashion, the pilots spooled those engines up to full throttle and launched us into the muck. The engines were loud from the high thrust takeoff. The unsettling leveling off to protect sensitive ears of rich people was apparently all that it took to send my daughter over the edge after the oxygen mask debacle. She started crying as we climbed.

It wasn’t long before we were above the weather, and she quickly flipped right back to normal. We zoomed up to 41,000 feet, nice and light for our 2.5 hour flight down.

The flight attendants came through with water, the only drink they had onboard, and a couple packets of snack mix. Though they did occasionally come through and ask if we needed anything else, they spent most of the time in the back galley where they would have had this view.

I spent the flight reading as my kids watched their tablets. I did browse the entertainment options and saw that there was a Kidz Bop music channel. My daughter loves Kidz Bop, even though I have a very strong hatred of it, so I brought it over to her, only to be told that it was out of range for music. Oh right, I guess it doesn’t work south of the border. At first I felt bad for bringing it up, and then I realized it meant I wouldn’t have to listen to Kidz Bop. We’ll call it a victory.

My wife settled in for a nap pretty quickly, and I would occasionally go back and forth between the kids, pointing out landmarks as we went down. My daughter kept taking my phone and snapping photos. I like this one which shows the Mexican coast but also highlights the rare blue canoe fairings under the wing on this special-liveried aircraft.

There was one other trace of the Nevada livery on the interior — well-worn stickers scattered around the overhead bins.

We soon were descending over the Pacific, and made a left turn over Sayulita before landing to the south. We had a quick taxi in, passing by a gaggle of United airplanes.

The flight attendants had handed out immigration and customs cards onboard, but once we landed, we were given additional health forms to fill out after deplaning. They were never collected, nor did anyone actually look to see if we’d filled them out. They just asked us if we had done it, and that was that.

We went down into immigration where they took our temperatures and passed us through to get our passports stamped. We also walked by a really nice-looking TAR Embraer.

Puerto Vallarta has duty free on arrival, so I grabbed a bottle of Jura The Road, and by the time we got to baggage claim, there was just one agent standing by our bag, clearly hoping someone would come claim it quickly so he could do other things.

After fighting our way through the vendors, we were in a car on the way to the hotel. I could only think about how unlikely it is I’d ever be on a flight that empty again.

25 comments on “Southwest Perfects Social Distancing With 9 People On Our Flight to Puerto Vallarta (Trip Report)

  1. Very cool that you were four of the nine passengers on the flight. I’ve been on some pretty empty flights in the past, but none as empty as your flight.

    Was the America West mask something you had made? Or was it sold on an AvGeek web site? I can’t imagine the airline had them made way back when.

  2. The unsettling leveling off to protect sensitive ears of rich people was apparently all that it took to send my daughter over the edge after “the oxygen mask debacle. She started crying as we climbed.”

    Sensitive ears in deed. What an apt description.

    “It wasn’t long before we were above the weather, and she quickly flipped right back to normal. ”

    Something your daughter has over those billionaires with their sensitive ears & all.

  3. Ah, yes, I have fond memories of a couple of departures from SNA on America West’s 757s. I remember feeling like I was the last Pringle’s chip in the bottom of the can, looking (what seemed like) almost straight up. Man, that was YEARS ago… about the time the new terminal was being built.

    1. Nothing better than departing SNA on a 757 with a light load. It’s like a rocket ship blasting off. You literally feel yourself pushed into the back of the seat.

  4. I’m off to P.V. in 2 weeks.. Hyatt.  At P.V. airport, do they have an ATM?  I know most take $$, but I like some pesos also.  Did you use taxi. Uber, or ?? from airport to hotel?   On return, let us know procedure through airport.   Thanks.

    1. Mike C – Yes, they have multiple ATMs past customs and immigration, once you get past the vendors trying to rope you in. We had transport arranged by the hotel.

  5. Speaking of empty planes and fresh quarterly earning warnings from UA and AA, @CF did you do a Q4 / 2020 apples to apples comparison of cash burn per day. I remember a few posts in the past where you standardized the numbers since each airline reports it differently. Seeing AA report a $4m / day profit in March but turned into a $4m / day loss due to their $8m / day interest costs is definitely interesting for financial stability going forward. Maybe after all the airlines report in the next few weeks you can do one for Q1?

    1. BeeInBigD – I wasn’t planning on doing another one, because I think we’re past the point where cash burn matters. You have some airlines investing and spending to prepare for the recovery while others aren’t.

  6. Where you not worry about the covid test requirement coming back to the USA, the possibility that one of you gets COIVD there and have to stay 14 days in Mexico? That is giving me pause to travel overseas.. even if adults have the vaccine, the kids could get it and get stuck in mexico or whereever… what where your thoughts about that?

    1. JuanCFor – My wife and I are vaccinated, but of course we had the kids. We had mild concerns, but not really. The way we figured it was that worst case scenario we’d have to stick around in Mexico for longer, but work and school is remote so it wasn’t a huge issue even if it happened. But we also thought there was a very low chance.

  7. Love the mask. Also love the description of the “coach flat bed” – I managed to rustle up a couple of these for my kids a couple of years ago at the back of an otherwise pretty full BA jumbo out of Phoenix. Need to hope that they don’t start to think that much space on a plane is normal!

  8. It’s good that, this time, people recognize your America West gear.

    I wish I could have had this experience. Every flight that I’ve been on recently (on AA) has been oversold, with the whole begging-for-volunteers-with-flexible-travel-plans bit.

  9. Christmas Day 2018 we had a 6am flight from MCI-MSP with 9 people on board too! Real fun experience.

  10. Southwest has upgraded to offering a few soft drinks. You put up a certain number of fingers for your order, can’t remember the code. We are really progressing.

  11. I was on some WN flights in March and don’t remember giving them the finger – I just asked for….7-UP!

    Although, the canned water was “new”…haven’t seen that before on WN.

    SO_CAL_RETAIL_SLUT

  12. It looks like everyone was either in the A or C zones. Did the B flight attendant help out from what you could tell?

    1. Phllax – I have no idea who was assigned to what zones, but we didn’t see any of them too often. I’m sure they probably just drew straws to figure out whose turn it was.

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Cranky Flier