Taking Advantage During Southwest’s Meltdown (Trip Report)

American, Southwest, Trip Reports

If you’re on Twitter, you might remember seeing me post this a little while back:

I took the advice of the Twitterverse, and I didn’t book Spirit. Instead, I booked Southwest. For travel on Sunday and Monday during the airline’s meltdown. Thanks a lot.

But seriously, it was pretty interesting traveling during the meltdown. I had it way better than most, and in fact I was able to even improve my situation on the return thanks to the chaos.

It started with a look at flights, and I opted to go out of Long Beach with an LAX return. Why LAX? I wanted to fly on the MAX since I still hadn’t done it, and the flight was timed well. It cost about $200 for the roundtrip.

I checked in right at 24 hours and got boarding pass A60. I was up in the mountains with my family, so I wasn’t really paying much attention to the airline’s woes. It wasn’t until we started coming back down the mountain that I got nervous and started plotting backup options.

My airplane was supposed to fly LA to Houston, but it canceled. Instead, they were going to do a simple LA – San Jose – Long Beach routing. I figured it would be easy and on-time, but I failed to consider that the airplane wasn’t the problem. It was crew availability that would mess things up.

The airplane did get going eventually, but it was late, and our flight was expected to run about 20 to 30 minutes late. I didn’t get to the airport until after 1p, and then I sat out in the sun, enjoying the afternoon while I waited.

When the airplane landed, I headed into the gate. We were told to line up, but then we sat. The airplane was on the ground for more than 20 minutes, long after the passengers had deplaned, before anything happened. At gate 1, the boarding lanes are wedged in between the seats, taking a hard right turn, so it’s somewhat awkward.

Boarding finally began without any explanation on the delay, and I waved to the weird Halloween decoration on my way to the aircraft.

October 10, 2021
Southwest 4673 Lv Long Beach 140p Arr Phoenix 3p
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 1, Runway 30, Depart 40m Late
Phoenix (PHX): Gate D5, Runway 25L, Arrive 31m Late
N7885A, Boeing 737-76N, Hot Dog on a Stick colors, ~96% Full
Seat 13A, Coach
Flight Time 56m

Onboard, I looked for the first available window seat, and I took the row right behind the wing. The flight attendants were very apologetic about the delay and the whole general mess of the last couple days. I asked if the flight was full as we boarded, and the flight attendant up front said we were supposed to be but with all the problems, she had no idea what it would be like. It turns out we were nearly full, but not quite.

I took a look out the window and enjoyed the mis-matched engine cowlings on the Southwest aircraft across the way.

Toward the end of boarding, the middle was empty, and I was happy… until someone who walked toward the back couldn’t find what he wanted and came back up to take the middle seat.

This guy was, um, something else. He sat down with his KN95 mask only over his mouth. The flight attendants told him twice to put it over his nose, and he did, but then it would come right back down. This would only get weirder.

After taking off, we headed south over the water where I marveled at the incredible number of container ships waiting for their turn in port as we circled around to head east toward Phoenix.

The flight attendants hopped up quickly to do a beverage service, but they announced they only had Coke, Diet Coke, 7-Up, coffee, and water. They brought around a sign so you could point at the drink you wanted instead of talking which seems like weird overkill and totally unnecessary as a COVID precaution.

About halfway through service, the bumps picked up and the flight attendants had to sit down for a few minutes, but they were up again soon. Meanwhile, my seatmate was in fine form, manspreading as he pleased. That annoyed me, but it was an improvement for the woman in the aisle who had him lean into her during the early part of the flight. He eventually drifted off.

I decided to see if I could flip on baseball on the flight, but alas, Southwest didn’t get the channel with the game. Instead, I turned on football, but much of the flight was during halftime. As I waited for the game to come back, I got to watch a local news report about some airline screwing everything up. Glad I wasn’t flying them. Oh wait…

We began our descent into Phoenix, and my neighbor woke up. He turned to me and asked if he missed the drink service. I said yes, and he then let out a slow but urgent “Shiiiiit!” Let’s forget that we were on descent, and I could see Phoenix out the window. He still flagged down a flight attendant and asked her for pretzels. She brought him some, and then he bit the bag and ripped it open with his teeth, spilling all over.

He then flagged her down again and asked for a Diet Coke. She was far too nice, and gave it to him. This, of course, gave him full license to leave his mask off the rest of the flight.

We circled around to land from the east, and as we taxied, he leaned over me to stare out the window. I thought about telling him that he could do that if he put his mask on, but I decided to just bite my lip and wait, knowing we’d be off soon.

As soon as we landed, he jumped up, saying he needed to get his bag, and then he disappeared toward the back. I looked over and snapped this photo after he left.

I then looked up, locked eyes with my aisle seatmate, and we gave a knowing nod to each other. That was something else.

Once in the airport, my mind shifted to hoping that the return wouldn’t be impacted.

I had forgotten to check in for my return, and by the time I did, I ended up with pass C20. Oops. I had kept an eye on my aircraft, and it had arrived in LA from Hawai’i the night before. It would just come right to Phoenix and bring me back. This would be easy…. ha.

By the time I woke up the next morning, the airplane had been replaced. It was now going to be operated by a 737-800 that had been sitting in Phoenix all night instead of a MAX, defeating the entire point of me going into LAX in the first place. I looked to see if there was a Long Beach flight instead, but it left too soon… except then I looked at flight status and it was already delayed. If I left then, I could try to hop on the Long Beach flight, so I did.

The airport itself seemed surprisingly quiet. The counter lines didn’t look that long, and security took no time at all. I went toward C19 from where the Long Beach flight would be leaving, and I found an agent at the counter with no line.

I told her that I was on the later flight to LAX, but since things were so dicey, I wondered if I could get on the Long Beach flight. She looked, said it had some room, and gladly put me on it at no extra cost. But first, I asked her… was there a crew?

She said the pilots were already there, but we were just waiting for flight attendants to come in at gate C11 shortly. With that, she checked me in and I ended up with pass A58, a remarkable outcome presumably due to someone canceling and leaving that spot open. Then she left me with a heartfelt “please don’t give up on us, we’re all working really hard to get everyone where they need to go.” I asked if she had been working a lot of overtime, and she nodded vigorously. It had been a tough few days.

The gate area was mobbed, so I wandered over to C11 where I could stalk the crew. When they arrived, I went back and lined up to board.

October 11, 2021
Southwest 5021 Lv Phoenix 905a Arr Long Beach 1035a
Phoenix (PHX): Gate C19, Runway 25L, Depart 1h12m Late
Long Beach (LAX): Gate 1, Runway 30, Arrive 58m Late
N7733B, Boeing 737-76N, Hot Dog on a Stick colors, ~99% Full
Seat 4F, Coach
Flight Time 1h3m

I walked onboard to find a friendly welcome from a flight attendant. I told her I was sorry there was no alcohol onboard, because I imagined she could use a drink. She laughed and agreed. These crews don’t even know where they are, they’re getting yanked around so much.

I took seat 4F, and once we boarded up, we taxied toward the west end of the airport for departure. On the way, I had a good look at the new, final concourse being built on Terminal 4 for Southwest, just west of the current D gates. It looks nice and wide, and I’m very curious to see how Southwest uses it.

There wasn’t much of a wait for us to get airborne. The sky was still as we wound our way up before turning west. It was a great view of Phoenix on the way out.

This flight had the same drink service pattern as we slowly chugged our way west. We descended slowly, eventually passing through a thin marine layer before landing.

Once at the gate, the flight attendant came on and said “we won’t normally do this, but it looks like we’ll be using both stairs today.” And then a minute later, “I guess not. The stairs are here, but we can’t use them.” I’m not sure what that’s all about.

As we got off, I wished them luck and few reroutes, but they just rolled their eyes and laughed, saying their schedule was already a complete mess.

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18 comments on “Taking Advantage During Southwest’s Meltdown (Trip Report)

  1. Well—- Now you know what happens when you listen to twitter. :) How did the Spirit flights do?

  2. I don’t think the drink menu thing is meant to keep people from talking. I think the issue is that the FAs can’t hear people in the window seats easily, and it’s harder when you can’t see people’s mouths moving.

    1. That was my thought too. With masks on, they can’t combine lip reading with partially hearing what the passenger says in order to figure out what they want. I was on Southwest last week, and they did the hold-up-your-fingers thing on the outbound flight, but not the return.

      1. I flew on an AS MAX (hah!) last week, and the FA had a hard time understanding my requests from my window seat (and vice versa).

      2. Agreed, the masks muffle and its hard to understand. Plus if I have headphones in dont have to take them out to talk to the flight attendant, just hold up my hand. Probably speeds service along too so people don’t keep asking for things they dont have.

  3. I flew MKE-SAV that day. It began when I got a text at midnight saying my flight was canceled. I was traveling with 3 other people – they had bought their tickets together and I bought my own, just in case something happened and it would be easier to reticket separately. And that’s what happened. I was given the automated option to rebook MKE-BNA-SAV, which left an hour earlier (6:10 a.m. instead of 7:10), which I grabbed. They were rerouted onto a flight that left at 12:06 a.m. the same day (in other words, they had 6 minutes to get the new flight after SWA canceled the other one at midnight). They ended up buying a direct flight from Midway in Chicago. Other than losing sleep, my flight day went fine, with both flights arriving early. Can’t say the same for the 1,000+ people standing in line to talk to agents when I got to the airport at 5:15 a.m. SWA refunded their original fares and I got a $100 make-good, which I gave right back when I booked a flight to BAL for December. Hoping nothing else happens between now and then but I get anxious every time I see a Southwest email pop into the inbox.

  4. Brett,

    On your return flight, I have had similar situations like that. Although in my case it involved transit busses I thought I missed, but they were running really late. Also screw twitter.

  5. My brother woke up for a TPA-ISP flight for my wedding to find that WN canceled his flight at 2 AM and rebooked him a day later with a connection. Luckily, he was able to book a Frontier flight on the same route at the same time for only $110.

  6. I was on Delta that weekend and didn’t hear much about the delays and cancellations on Southwest, aside from one canceled flight at a nearby gate in Wichita, until we got to our destination. I’m normally a Southwest homer but it didn’t work out for where we were going — one of the few times I was glad to not be on Southwest. Have tried to be empathetic and kind to all flight crews, regardless of airline, recently, and they really seem to appreciate it. And I’m glad I am not the only one who tries to check on the status of delayed income flight crews, CF ;)

  7. We had some serious drama that Sunday, but there were some WN folks on the ball, and our drama ended like a rom com with only periods of elevated heart rate and BP.

    Companion Pass Bookings are not easily reaccommodated, especially if all the seats are gone. After 6 hours on hold, the phone agent suggested I send an email to corporate. There was someone reading emails at corporate on Sunday afternoon, who called me 2 hours later to tell me there was a seat for my wife on my flight that night if I wanted it. Holy Carp was I shocked, and immediately said yes. My daughter was traveling back to PHX on WN that night as well. I, being the extremely talented travel expert, assumed she was on my flight. We found out when she tried to board that she was indeed booked on the flight that left an hour earlier. Fortunately there was a family of 7 that no showed, and after a session of begging in the front galley that perhaps the gate agent could take pity on the expert moron in front of him and help his distraught daughter standing at the top of the jetway. He did. There were obviously passengers who had serious struggles, but at least in my case, WN staff stepped up and did everything in their power to make things right, so they have further increased my positive impressions.

    1. There you have it. When SWA fails, it’s not for a lack of sincerity, kindness and compassion. Of course, there are outliers to this, as there are in any large corporation, but for my money, Southwest is THE best. Like many others, I sure do wish they would fix their operation. I used to be able to set my watch by Southwest Airlines.

      1. I suffered a canceled flight with SWA in August, two during the October meltdown where I had to sleep at BWI, and a 6 hour delay on Oct. 29. Southwest has yet to return an e-mail from October 9 or offer any compensation for the meltdown experience I went through. Delta in terms of reliability is running rings around SWA.

  8. I flew the week before Labor Day on WN, MHT-PHX and back. First flight in nearly two years.I took a fistful of Starbucks gift cards and handed them out to the cabin crews as a thank you for all the abuse they’ve been dealing with from asshole passengers. You’d have thought I handed some of them winning lottery tickets they were so grateful; one was almost crying. Well worth every penny.

    1. I used to be a flight attendant- you could give me a stick of gum and you’d drink for free on my flight.

      1. If I’m already at the airport and I see an earlier flight leaving for my destination on the same airline, I’ll get a bottle of soda or a candy bar at the newsagent and hand it to the gate agent working the earlier flight, then casually ask about moving to the earlier flight…

        Restrictions on Basic Economy tickets often prevent the gate agent from moving me to the earlier flight, but if the tactic doesn’t work, I feel good about giving a small gift to a stranger, and if it does, it’s money well spent, so I’m happy either way.

        Never underestimate the power of advance preparation, small gifts (if/when appropriate), polite attitudes, and patience when dealing with those who have to deal with the public… Whether at the airport or the DMV, it doesn’t take much to make someone smile, and some policies/rules that can either be bent/overlooked or enforced very strictly by front-line workers, usually depending on the attitude of the customer in front of them. :-)

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