December 26, 2008

A Very Southwest Christmas

I have been a fan of Southwest Airlines for many years despite the fact that they originated in Texas.

On Christmas morning we left home at 8:40 a.m. for Oakland Airport. Our flight was a few minutes delayed, but no big deal. I was surprised how many people were traveling on Christmas day, and how everyone still seemed relatively jovial. Maybe because they were on their way to see loved ones, or perhaps escaping from too many loved ones.

Four of us were traveling--one purchase ticket and three frequent flier awards--and I had checked in early enough to get in the "A" boarding group. So things were good. Our transfer in Albuquerque went smoothly, though the 9 year old nearly left his backpack in the terminal because his nose was buried so deep in "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing." Our flight from Albuquerque (I love that word for some reason) to Hartford made a stop in Baltimore... something I hadn't known when I booked it, but it wouldn't have mattered.

But here's the point of my post: Although the flight attendants and gate staff were friendly and helpful and cheerful the whole day, it was this stopover in Baltimore that was special. Since we'd arrived 20 minutes early, we stayed on and had nearly half an hour before they boarded the rest of the folks. I told the boys to go look at the cockpit, thinking they'd take a quick peek and then get shooed back to our seats.

Instead, Captain Michael returned from somewhere and invited them into the cockpit. Ethan (the 12 year old) sat in the co-pilot's chair, and Sam (the 9 year old) stood behind and watched. Fifteen or so minutes later, the boys returned looking like they'd just met Santa Claus in person and had sat in his sleigh. Ethan had not only got to change an indicator light bulb that was out (any union reps in the audience please disregard that last note) but he programmed the autopilot for our flight. The captain of course oversaw every move he made, and the proof was in the actual landing at Hartford an hour or so later, but still.

And we thought it was over. But shortly after takeoff, the pilot announced the flight plan and said, "Of course, thanks to Ethan and Sam for helping us set up our flight today." Then Lynn, the lovely and talented flight attendant who worked our section of the cabin from Albuquerque to Hartford, delivered two small bags. At first they looked like paper lunch bags. But the captain had cleverly used (clean) airsick bags to make up some goodie packs for the boys. Nothing special, but each boy got a pack of peanuts, a bag of pretzels, a Southwest luggage tag, and a pack of Southwest cards.

I can not wait until Southwest opens up routes to Minneapolis and Charlotte. When they do, I won't have any reason to fly any other airline. Certainly not US Airways, who charge you a dollar on the flight for a cup of coffee. Talk about no frills.

Anyway, it turned into my best flight in many years, thanks to Lynn and captain Michael and co-pilot Dave. And it happened on Christmas day.


Unknown said...

Way cool! I didn't think TSA regs let them do that sort of stuff anymore.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Aw. How wonderful is that? I'm glad the boys got to have such a great experience. Most of my experience with Southwest has been good and the bad mostly involved other passengers and a gate agent or two. I, too, hope they keep opening the new routes.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Hey! What was that snide remark about Texas?! OK, I just live in Texas. Doesn't mean I approve of the state and its politics -- but, hey, no state income tax!

What a great story -- and such a blast for the boys (and you, too!).

I know an AA pilot. I'll ask him if the cockpit tour is still allowed on AA planes. I do remember pilots handing out pins (wings) and giving cockpit tours when I was a kid *mumbled* years ago. I think I have an autographed airsick bag around here somewhere. Yes, here it is: "Clear skies always," signed "Orville" and "Wilbur".

writtenwyrdd said...

That's a great experience for the kids. So often adults can overlook how a little bit of effort can make an everlasting memory for a child.

Natasha Fondren said...

See? I was worried that sort of generosity had died out. That's absolutely wonderful. We tend to fly Southwest, but now I'm going to make it a point to choose Southwest, even when it's a little bit more. It's a sad world when that kind of treatment is a novelty.

pacatrue said...

That's the sort of advertising that money can't buy.

JaneyV said...

I thought that they'd put the kibosh on all that "tours to the cabin" stuff. I am so delighted that this Captain was able to use his discretion and give your boys a real Christmas treat. Hope you're having a lovely time in Connecticut. Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones.

This story has really made me smile.

PJD said...

Wow, thanks all for your comments. I agree with everyone. I thought we'd get in big trouble for this, but maybe they have more leeway when it's between de-planing and boarding. Or when it's Christmas. I would like to point out that at every moment the Captain had a keen eye trained on everything.

Jane... thanks, we did have a lovely 18 hours in Connecticut before driving to Vermont. I should post some photos of the 150 year old house (refreshed a bit) and 30 acres including a pond that my parents have. Imagine New England at its most charming in snowy winter.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Just spoke to an ex-flight attendant who's married to the AA pilot I mentioned earlier. She says her husband carries a supply of wings (alas, they are plastic these days, not like the metal ones many of us may remember) and peel-and-stick embroidered patches for the kids. AA still allows cockpit tours for the kids as well as first-time adult fliers, but it has to be a "perfect storm" of crew mood and time to indulge in the PR aspect. Ususally it happens during boarding.

Not advocating AA over Southwest ;o) -- my friend just happened to call today and I remembered to ask her about AA's policy. If it doesn't seem extra-rushed during boarding, it apparently never hurts to ask...

Robin B. said...

Hi Pete,

This is great!

Sorry to be so late in commenting -we just got backin last night - this was a wonderful Christmas story to read about!

McKoala said...

That's very cool. Nice captain!