Better Gate Management Could Have Helped on This Southwest Flight (Trip Report)

Southwest, Trip Reports

I had to go up to Oakland for a quick overnight business trip, so the airline I’d take wasn’t in question. Being able to fly from Long Beach meant that there was no other option to even bother considering. The flight up went like clockwork, but the return? Southwest could do a better job managing gates in Oakland, because we had a completely avoidable delay.

This trip was booked in late May for a mere $117.95 roundtrip. As always, I didn’t book EarlyBird and just planned to check myself in 24 hours out. On the way up, I didn’t see my reminder to check-in until a few minutes after time, but I still ended up with B2. I figured that meant this flight would be fairly empty, and I wasn’t wrong.

For an overnight trip, I just park in the long term garage. I left home 55 minutes before departure, walked from the garage, and then I got nervous. The security line was about as long as I’ve ever seen in Long Beach.

Had I finally cut it too close? Nope. The TSA Precheck line was only a couple people deep, and I sailed on through. Let this be a lesson, kids. Make sure you have Precheck.

On the other side, I had once again arrived too early, so I sat outside and watched the airplanes until it was time to board, both because I love sitting outside but also because it was a busy day in the concourse itself.

On the way out to the airplane, I noticed this was quite the vintage bird, marked to celebrate former Ops exec Donald Ogden. You could see the eyebrow window plugs, and it could have used a new coat of paint, but I suppose they should finish painting all the airplanes in this livery before that happens.

Southwest 3645
July 20, 2022

Depart Long Beach
➤ Scheduled: 850a, Actual: 847a
➤ From: Gate 7 on Runway 30

Arrive Oakland
➤ Scheduled: 1005a, Actual: 954a
➤ At: Gate 4 on Runway 30

Aircraft
➤ Type: Boeing 737-7H4
➤ Delivered: August 4, 2003
➤ Registered: N439WN, msn 29834
➤ Livery: Hot Dog on a Stick

Flight
➤ Cabin: Coach in Seat 8A
➤ Load: ~55% Full
➤ Flight Time: 52m

I was flying with a coworker on this trip, and we grabbed row 8 on the left side. The flight was empty enough that we had an empty middle, and all was right in the world.

There wasn’t much to say about the flight itself. We took off, we flew north, we were served salty death mix, and then we were descending. The one thing I will point out is the fancy new and improved map in the Southwest app. This is much better.

I particularly enjoyed the view out the window, so I could recreate… what I could see myself. Though it didn’t really look like the same place.

We descended through a thin marine layer and landed.

I had only mild PTSD after my last Oakland adventure, but I quickly relaxed once I realized I didn’t have five more flights that day. We were off to do work.

That afternoon, I checked in on time, but I ended up with B20. Ah, a more full flight, I see. But I generally assume that anything below B30 will get me a window when I’m traveling alone, so I wasn’t fazed.

I was at the A’s game at the Coliseum before the flight home, so I was able to just walk out the back of the stadium, cross over some really scenic views of warehousing and empty parking lots, and hop on the cable car to the airport.

That was hugely convenient, but I didn’t realize it was a whopping $6.70 per person for the short ride.

My flight was posted at gate 8A which is one of the few gates Southwest uses in Terminal 1, so I went into that terminal and waited in a very lengthy security line. It took 10 minutes to get through TSA Precheck, and I couldn’t figure out what was going on. At one point, they closed the Precheck ID check line, then they opened it with a new security lane. For some reason I had to bring a crumpled paper with me to that new lane showing I was Precheck, but I’m pretty sure everyone in that line was. So… I dunno.

Our gate had moved over to 10, which is right next door. I went over there and took a seat. Out the window I could see an airplane heading to Vegas that was not moving off the gate. Nothing happened, and our departure time was creeping closer….

Then, a gate announcement… “we’re sorry but the Long Beach flight has been moved to gate 21.” Ouch. That is one of the closer gates in Terminal 2, at least, and there is a behind-security connector. But it was still a bit of a hike to get everyone over there. People were hurrying, but really, they shouldn’t have been. By the time I ambled over, the last airplane at the gate was just pushing off.

Our airplane, meanwhile, spent more than half an hour on the ground just waiting around for a place to park. There were a lot of open gates in the high 20s/low 30s, so I’m surprised they didn’t put us there earlier. Maybe they aren’t staffed to use those gates at that time of the day, or maybe they thought going to the high 20s was a step too far… literally. I’m not sure. But this was a delay that could have been avoided.

Meanwhile, people slowly got off our airplane, and there was one agent working the door who seemed to be in no hurry at all to get us going. We started boarding around scheduled departure time, and I was really surprised to find when I got on that seat 4A was open and waiting for me.

Southwest 445
July 21, 2022

Depart Oakland
➤ Scheduled: 425p, Actual: 453p
➤ From: Gate 21 on Runway 30

Arrive Long Beach
➤ Scheduled: 545p, Actual: 606p
➤ At: Gate 7 on Runway 30

Aircraft
➤ Type: Boeing 737-7H4
➤ Delivered: July 11, 2005
➤ Registered: N219WN, msn 32490
➤ Livery: Hot Dog on a Stick

Flight
➤ Cabin: Coach in Seat 4A
➤ Load: ~85% Full
➤ Flight Time: 1h02m

Once I was in my seat, the flight attendants announced that the flight was nearly full, so people should just take any seat. Somehow, 4B stayed open, and my seatmate and I, an older lady with noise canceling headphones on, were both pleased.

It was, as usual, a quick taxi out and then we were soon in the air. There is nothing better than sitting on the left side while climbing out of Oakland. First you get that beautiful view of the city.

Then it’s time for that oh-so-scenic turn over SFO.

I had some drink coupons, so when the flight attendant came by, I decided I could use a little Wild Turkey. I asked my seatmate if she wanted a drink, and she said she had plenty of coupons herself, but thanked me.

We started descending just before Santa Barbara and went out over the water before looping around over Catalina and landing. We parked at the very same gate from which I had departed the day before, so it felt like a symmetrical end to a quick and productive trip.

13 comments on “Better Gate Management Could Have Helped on This Southwest Flight (Trip Report)

  1. The ground staffing is terrible at SWA, the station managers get bonuses for ideal (reduced) staffing. So, they are only staffed for an ideal operation with no delays. Swapping gates to an open gate can actually lead to a longer delay because there will be staff to work the flight. Mike Van de Vin has destroyed the once reliable SWA operation, he called it redefining excellence.

    1. Yeah it’s sad that it’s being managed for the quarterly profits for Wall Street.

      I’m curious if Berkshire Hathaway would be interested in buying Southwest. It seems kinda up their alley. (Although Warren Buffet is on record as saying that if a capitalist had been present at Kitty Hawk, they should’ve shot the Wright Brothers.

  2. It is truly avgeek nirvana when you have “left home 55 minutes before departure” and still “arrived too early.” I can do likewise at DCA (depending on the time of day) but when it works it never fails to amaze and delight me!

    1. Same when I lived in Monterey. I lived maybe a mile from the airport, and at night I could hear the Saab’s props go into beta mode after touchdown. This was in the post-9/11 era but before the introduction of PreCheck, and it was also a situation of I could leave home an hour before the flight and still be sitting and waiting at the gate. I concluded that while big busy airports like LAX and SFO are great for the avgeek who wants to watch planes, the little airports like MRY and LGB are better for actually going somewhere.

  3. Don’t like the new map for the sole reason that the dang airplane icon is so big. Why couldn’t it be smaller? And what part of the plane is your actual position? On my automobile Garmin, the center of the icon is your position, maybe this is the same.

    I also wish that you could tilt the maps down, especially the cockpit view.

    1. Randy – See, I remember the old one being pretty useless, so this is a real improvement. But are there ways I’d improve more? Sure.

  4. What did you do with your bags while you were at the game? I can’t imagine they let you take your roll-on bag inside the coliseum.

    1. Eric – Well, the good news is that my coworker’s brother works for the team. So I left the bag in his car, and then when it was time to go, he just brought the bag to me. It was just a backpack since it was a quick overnight, probably could have brought it in myself anyway.

  5. Re: Checking in 24 hours before and getting less than ideal boarding position — has happened to me frequently, also. However, got extremely lucky last week between MCI and PNS. Was able to snag the 2-seat exit row side for my wife and I on a full flight with B-30ish and then got 1C with C8 and being one of the last 10 to board on the way home … still not sure how that happened, but grateful. Thanks for another great trip report and some good avgeek zingers (remember kids, always use pre-check!)

    1. I got 1F with a B43 boarding pass on a flight last year. I think row 1 is less desirable since there’s no underseat storage in front of you, so all carry ons have to go in the overhead. There’s also no tray table for row 1 on Southwest, unlike other airlines they didn’t have the seats with the tray table in the armrest.

  6. The Oakland airport connector thing really is a rip off, not unlike some other airport transit things, but more egregiously so.

    You can still take the 73 bus from outside coliseum station which runs every 15 minutes and is the standard $2.25 bus fare, and it even drops you closer to the terminal building than the shuttle does. Overall it doesn’t take much longer either.

  7. Southwest’s operation has improved markedly in the past 3-4 months. My last 5 round trips in Q2 into Q3 have all been basically on time. Prior to that, the ~15 round trips I took from early 2021 through Q1, at least one leg almost every trip had a long delay, a missed connection, or a cancellation.

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