An Avoidable Delay on Southwest (Trip Report)

American, Southwest, Trip Reports

I was back in the air again last week, this time to Vegas for my first conference since the pandemic began. All attendees were vaccinated, but there was still a mask requirement when not eating or drinking. Trying to talk all day with a mask on while racing between meeting areas… that’s not ideal. But of course, you don’t care about that. You want to hear about the flights.

I took Southwest on this trip, using the points equivalent of a roundtrip ticket of under $100 from Long Beach. The flights themselves were fine, but the return had an unnecessary and mildly annoying delay. I’ll explain when we get there, but first, let’s talk about the flight over.

I checked in at 24 hours out and got pass A44. I figured that a Tuesday morning flight to Vegas would be an empty flight… and I was not wrong. I took a Lyft to the airport and arrived with a little less than an hour before departure which is way too much time for Long Beach. Security took 5 seconds, and then I parked myself outside and worked until it was time to board.

Southwest is well established at the southernmost gates (1-4), but it apparently hasn’t been in the old JetBlue gates long enough to get settled. There were no boarding markers, and there was a lot of confusion about where to line up. In the end, the gate agents just called people up by groups of 15 to board, making my A44 a pretty great place to be.

Southwest 1194
November 9, 2021

Depart Long Beach
➤ Scheduled: 815a, Actual: 817a
➤ From: Gate 8 on Runway 30

Arrive Las Vegas
➤ Scheduled: 920a, Actual: 912a
➤ At: Gate B11 on Runway 26L

➤ Type: Boeing 737-7H4
➤ Delivered: Nov 1, 1999
➤ Registered: N738CB, msn 27870
➤ Livery: Canyon Blue

➤ Cabin: Coach in Seat 2A
➤ Load: ~65% Full
➤ Flight Time: 44m

We boarded on time, and pretty much everyone had an empty middle on this lightly-loaded flight. The flight attendants reminded everyone that since the flight is so short, there would be no service onboard. They also said wifi wasn’t working, so basically… sit there and relax for 45 minutes because you had no other options.

After taking off into a shallow marine layer, we circled around over the port and headed northeast toward Las Vegas. It was just a spectacularly scenic morning to fly.

I knew wifi didn’t work, but I was curious to see if live TV did. It came up right away, but I had no interest in actually watching, so I turned it off and went back to looking out the window.

We approached Vegas from the southwest and the high clouds made for a dramatic backdrop…

The winds, unfortunately, were not in our favor for a straight in approach. We did a fly-by east over the city which gave me an excellent view of a shaded McCarran, er, Reid, er, whatever you want to call that airport now.

Then we kept descending until we got toward Lake Las Vegas. It got bumpy over that rugged terrain as we circled over the mountains to make our final approach to the west.

We landed and got to the gate a few minutes early. That’s my kind of flight. The return, however, was a somewhat different story.

I had once again checked in 24 hours prior to departure, and I got B11 this time. The conference ended around 1pm, and we went straight to the airport knowing that one of the guys on our team had an Amex Platinum card that could get us in to finish our internal company meetings there.

Security was a head-scratcher. We got in the Precheck line and there were about a dozen people in line. The next 5 people were turned away because they did not have Precheck. The agent came out from behind the podium and told everyone to make sure they had Precheck on their boarding pass or they’d have to go in a different line. Everyone nodded… and then the very next person didn’t have Precheck. It was like being in the Twilight Zone. Keep in mind that the regular line was not long, so these are people who simply can’t read signs or understand basic instructions.

Once through, we went to the very crowded Amex lounge where we found a little corner with three seats. My airplane had arrived two hours before departure, so I knew that wouldn’t be an issue. I left the lounge an hour before departure, because getting from the D to the C gates isn’t exactly the most straightforward thing.

I made it to my gate about 40 minutes before departure, exhausted from a week of schmoozing and drinking, and sat there as the sun slowly set. It was an incredibly fun event, but I’m definitely out of practice.

The gate agent announced soon after that we were waiting on the crew to come in from Reno… and I got nervous… but he said they had landed three gates down and would be over soon. We’d be about 10 to 15 minutes late, but we expected to land on time, so all was well.

It took about 25 minutes from the time the Reno flight landed until the crew scurried up to the gate area to get us moving. Our flight had about 30 open seats, so even though it was a 737-800, we had the load of a 737-700. I was hopeful we could still get out quickly.

Southwest 1114
November 12, 2021

Depart Las Vegas
➤ Scheduled: 435p, Actual: 504p
➤ From: Gate C16 on Runway 1R

Arrive Long Beach
➤ Scheduled: 545p, Actual: 601p
➤ At: Gate 1 on Runway 30

➤ Type: Boeing 737-8H4
➤ Delivered: August 1, 2012
➤ Registered: N8317M, msn 36992
➤ Livery: Hot Dog on a Stick

➤ Cabin: Coach in Seat 17F
➤ Load: ~83% Full
➤ Flight Time: 41m

Upon boarding, I was shocked to see the magical exit row window seat with no seat in front still unoccupied. I can’t recall ever seeing that so late in the boarding game, so I put my bags up and then went to sit down… But right before I got there, a woman who had boarded before came back forward and took the seat. Not cool.

The flight attendant saw this, and when I moved back to a window a couple rows back, she stood in the aisle in my row to greet people. She had to stand somewhere, but I figured her standing in my row was maybe a little concession to my quick and unexpected change in fortune. We chatted a bit while the airplane continued filling up, and it looked like I was going to have a coach flat bed… until the very last person took the aisle seat in my row. I really didn’t care, of course. The middle seat was open and this was a short flight. I was happy.

All boarded up, I figured we’d be on our way, but we weren’t. Instead, I saw a mechanic walking back. I said “uh oh” and the flight attendant told me it was no big deal, nothing to worry about.

This was an ETOPS-enabled 737-800, but it’s also one in the older configuration where there’s a little half bulkhead at the front. The mechanic went up there, opened up his logbook or laptop, or whatever it was, and then just kept staring at it, occasionally typing something.

The pilots came on to tell us that they had found an oxygen canister that wasn’t properly fastened. It was all fixed, but they had to wait for the paperwork. This was particularly frustrating, especially knowing that airplane had just been sitting there for two hours, and it was only the tight crew timings that meant they couldn’t discover the problem earlier.

The pilots told us it would be a couple of minutes, but it went far longer than that. I can’t imagine what it was like for that mechanic to stand there, knowing there were 145 pairs of eyes staring him down, watching his every move, and willing with all their power to get him off the airplane so we could leave.

We eventually left about half an hour late. There were winds out of the north, so we taxied out to the 1s for departure. I realized that I had picked the wrong side for takeoff since we would have a great, sweeping view of the Strip as we climbed and turned back toward the southwest. At least I could capture this before departure.

We climbed in the fading light, and only then did I realize I had indeed picked the best side of the aircraft. We had a truly stunning view of the fading rays of daylight as the sun slipped further and further beyond the horizon.

There was a weird vibe on the airplane, mostly because the Boeing Sky Interior seemed to be malfunctioning. That blue mood lighting felt more like a seedy, back alley club experience with this constant but irregular flickering that went on the entire flight.

Throughout the flight, the flight attendants continuously apologized for not doing any drink service. They promised they’d make it up to us on our next flight.

As we got over the mountains into the LA Basin, the red sky had dulled, but it was still enough to capture this photo.

We landed on a warm evening. I noted that the Halloween blow-up had been replaced by a Thanksgiving -themed one, and then I headed home.

We weren’t very late in the end, and it was only a minor inconvenience. But it is still frustrating to see something that could have been handled during aircraft downtime instead bleed into the customer experience.

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18 comments on “An Avoidable Delay on Southwest (Trip Report)

  1. JetBlue always did a beverage service on the leg, yes it was modified but they still did one.

    Also so you know, you will never do a straight in approach to 8R in Las Vegas. The mountains to the west are to close to allow that. At best you would get an extended left base to the 1’s coming from LA.

    1. Rob – Oh I knew I wouldn’t get an approach on the 8s. I was hoping for the arrival on the 1s which I’ve done many times before. Always shaves a few minutes off.

  2. I remember when WN did a drink service on every flight, no matter how short. Even a flight like HOU-AUS got one. I would think LGB-LAS with the modified pandemic beverage service should be long enough to get one out.

  3. Blame Maintenix, SWAs new maintenance software. Basic sign offs have been taking up to an hour. That, in my opinion is more to blame here than the crew connects (although contributory). Normally, would have been a quick paper sign off in the logbook.

  4. Sounds like WN was just trying to save money so no inflight service.

    I believe Oakland-Reno is a shorter flight and even on airlines that would drag out the beverage cart in years gone by, they used to do a service.

    1. Southwest had half cart service for less than 6 months when they first introduced the 737-800NG to the fleet. But all the other aircraft at the time was their legendary tray service. Needless to say the experiment failed. Yes other airlines flying from the Bay Area to Reno over the years did probably do cart service on the short flight which lets be honest is easier than Taking orders tray service because
      Carts offer instant gratification. But it’s not uncommon for United as an example to
      Offer only First and business class passengers drinks on the short flight from SFO-RNO.
      Skywest forget your gonna get it’s the to short
      Of a flight announcement.

      1. And not doing service “Doesn’t save Southwest any money” because those drinks have already been budgeted along with all the crew wages many months before the flights actually happens regardless of the flight length. Did you know that WN in 2019/2020 budget for its inflight service stock(Drinks and Snacks) well before the pandemic happened and paid for them well in advance. Instead of just letting all the products go to waste because of the pandemic Southwest decided it was better to help those in need and donated millions of products to food banks around its system. Each published flight schedules get reviewed and budgeted for what’s needed it basically becomes a Wash at the end of the quarter as part of doing business as a whole.
        So not doing service on such a
        Short flight isn’t really saving all that much.
        My view is Now post pandemic it’s proven no one really needs a drink or a snack on a flight an hour or Less anymore. Just because it was always done doesn’t mean it needs to continue. We use to be able with to Smoke on aircraft and now we don’t anymore change happens. Maybe Airlines like WN will see eliminating drinks on short flight eventually reduced there budgets on stock and those cost savings can be used instead to add USB power ports to their aircraft seats. One can dream right.

    2. Sounds like their older unionized workforce doesn’t adapt well to change. I guess paying those big unionized contact dollars…doesn’t come with efficiency. You can’t force an old dog to learn new tricks, even for the right price.

      1. The average WN FA earns $51K a year. I would hardly call that “big unionized contract dollars…”

  5. When beverage service came back during COVID, WN stated it would only be on 250 miles or longer flights. I think a lot of airlines started around that distance though things have changed as the progress has moved along during the pandemic. And they recently expanded from 5 to 10 drink options too. Slowly but surely they will get back to normal, right?

    Yes, pre-covid, the only flights that didn’t get WN beverage service were ones that had turbulence along the route that caused the FAs to stay seated, otherwise, they would do it on even the shortest of flights such as the HOU-AUS referenced above and a number of other shorter routes.

  6. Current Covid and Mask wearing Safety precautions during this ongoing pandemic is one of the reason Southwest is not doing service on Short flights. Hopefully enough People will continue to get vaccinated (Yes I know the vaccinated can still get Covid let’s stay on topic) and In 2021 the Spreading of Covid lessen to an acceptable rate where we can once again become Mask free travel.

    PreCovid Southwest did a FULL service on EVERY flight (weather permitting) with the exception of an abbreviated service procedures on Hawaii Inter Island flights.

    As for the Loosen Oxygen Bottle/Bracket there could be a Bazillion reasons why it was loosen . But that said During EVERY new aircraft or aircraft change ALL Southwest Flight Attendants and Pilots preform preflight Security and Equipment safety checks once the arrive at the aircraft. It may not have been loose at the start of the aircraft day. But seeing you took a evening flight this inbound crew could have originated Aircraft at the start of the day and the Bracket wasn’t loose then. After several Navy style Hard Landings it could have wiggled loose Or one of the other Bazillion reasons it came Loewe. So even though the Aircraft had a long ground time in LAS There was no need to check the equipment unless it was prescheduled MX change. So when the inbound flight crew arrived at their new aircraft they DID their MAIN job requirement which is Safety and Security. They noticed the problem,Told the Pilots who then Called Dispatch,LAS Ops agent working the flight and wrote it up In the Aircraft log book while simultaneously probably discussing with Dispatch and LAS MX who swiftly addressed the problem without a huge delay. Sounds like it was a Quick fix which allowed them to board the flight further lessening the MX delayed event.

    In my experience in the industry Just count you blessings for it happening at a Southwest MX base and not at a Smaller out city with third party subcontractor MX handling the fix. Not that they don’t do a safe job it’s just takes longer on average.
    Especially with stuff like Oxygen Bottle that are a “NO GO “items that CAN NOT be MEL for a MX fix when it passes through a MX city and will ground the aircraft until its fix or the replacement part is flown in.

    Either way again a bazillion reason.
    Enjoyed the Trip report.

    1. “PreCovid Southwest did a FULL service on EVERY flight (weather permitting) with the exception of an abbreviated service procedures on Hawaii Inter Island flights.”

      I took WN on OAKRNO pre-covid – no service on that flight with no wx issues.

      1. 99% of the time when service is canceled it’s weather related.
        RNO is know for bumpy arrivals coming especially coming from the west as you start your decent over the Mountains.(Mountain Wake) So it is not uncommon for the Pilots to plan on having the flight attendants clean up the cabin early at 20,000 feet vs the normal 10,000 feet Clean up and Secure the cabin for arrival.Inflight cabin service is usually done between 10,000 feet accent (Ding Dong) chime from the pilots in which the FA starts service to 10,000 feet decent (Ding Dong) chime from the pilots for Cabin clean up.
        Now on short flights like OAK-RNO are booked/ sold as 55 minutes flights gate to gate. But everything is Padded these days to improve the OTP Allusion. So the Actual “FLYING TIME” wheels up to wheels down is more like 25 Mins. So to break it down in a service mindset coming from a Flight Attendants perspective. You have 25 minutes to achieve and try and get out a full cabin service.
        Now on it usually take 5 to 10 minutes after take off during accent before you reach and or receive the (Ding Dong) 10,000 feet chime.
        Now from the FAs perspective let’s say it 5 mins for both chimes So that shaves off 10 mins of actual service time. 25-10= 15 mins of total service time left. It’s not uncommon during the preflight briefing for the pilots to just make the call to not have the flights attendant do service in the short flight.

  7. >so these are people who simply can’t read signs or understand basic instructions.

    A normal everyday occurance in an airport

  8. Love that you always take the window seat and that in-person conferences are coming back. Same here. Had a similar, seemingly unnecessary paperwork delay on Alaska (Horizon) in Seattle on Saturday. Aircraft had been sitting overnight, pushed back and the engines on our E175 wouldn’t start. Pilots said they could start them another way (using the cart) but we had to return to the gate to complete the paperwork with maintenance to do so. Waited for a tow for 15 minutes to pull us 100 feet back to the gate. Paperwork took 20ish minutes and a whole lot of maintenance personnel standing around. The cart start took less than 5 minutes; all told we were delayed nearly an hour. Very inefficient. Seems like there should be a faster way to do thr paperwork. The crew was very communicative and kind throughout the process, thought.

  9. Instead of whining about the maintenance man doing his job, you should be thankful he did. A 45 minute flight without wi-fi? – Oh my, what a disaster. Tried the free TV and found it worked – can’t complain about that, so you just turned it off. Then you cry about your window seat location, first it was bad, then good. Have you ever taken a flight without whining about something? You can and should be better than that – or am I (and others) asking too much from you? I don’t get it – you must be from the whiner generation.

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