The Painful Experience of Flying Southwest Airlines

by | Jan 9, 2016 | North America, Travel Tips, USA | 2 comments

We had flying business or first class on our list for a long time and we finally got to do it when we flew from London to San Francisco with Virgin Atlantic. It was pretty much as good as we thought it would be.

The one downside though? We had to begrudgingly take our seats back in economy on our next flight. And that next flight was with Southwest Airlines.

I had never flown with Southwest so there was the usual amount of mystique when flying with a budget airline for the first time. After experiencing Ryanair in Europe in all its glory I thought it would be a breeze though. We were flying midweek from San Diego to Phoenix, in the middle of the day and we weren’t on or even that near a holiday. We figured our flight would be half empty and we’d be in for a nice, short & relatively pleasant flight.

Unfortunately we were wrong. The flight was packed completely full. Worse still, we found out that Southwest airlines stick with the ridiculous idea of boarding planes with unassigned seating.

I remember having to deal with unassigned seating at our local movie theatre growing up. You’d either have to get there super early to stand and queue up forever before the theatre opened OR you’d get there on time and have to race others to get seats together shouting “I think there’s 4 together over there” as you trampled over an old grandma and her grandchildren to try and beat them to the seats. Inevitably you’d settle for seats on opposite sides of the theatre.

Fine until you realise you left the big bag of M&Ms with your buddy.

The Stress that is Boarding a Southwest Airlines Flight

We were boarding at the front of “boarding group C” (if you have never flown with Southwest, they corral you into groups before boarding) but by the time group A & B had gone through the plane was mostly full.

We had 2 bags of delicate computer and camera equipment as carry on so we didn’t want to be forced in to checking that in. I don’t know for sure but I imagine the baggage handlers are just waiting for those carry on bags that don’t fit so they can sadistically run them over and use them as the ball in a game of luggage tenpin bowling. Anything marked fragile wouldn’t even stand a chance.

With bated breathe, we nudged and sidestepped our way down the aisle hunting for a spare spot for our bags naively hoping we’d also be lucky enough to find two nearby seats next to each other. Dayna found a spot for her bag first and squished into a free seat (probably trampling a poor old grandma in doing so) but I was still struggling to find either a seat or a spot for my bag.

When I eventually won a standoff with another bemused and disgruntled first time Southwest flyer I think I took the last spot in the overhead compartment on the whole plane. Alas a seat wasn’t available with it and I had to turn around and go back up the aisle the way I had came. The only problem with that was there was a queue of people now in front of me that were all apparently disbelieving of my claims that there were, in fact, no seats left at the back of the plane.

Eventually someone got through to them and we trudged back towards the front of the plane as one. I started to think they had actually got 200 people to board a plane with 180 seats when the couple of people in front of me walked straight past a perfectly good looking middle seat and I moved quickly to nab the spot…straight behind a mum and her bawling young baby. Ah, maybe that was why they left that seat for me.

The mum had the young baby on her lap and of course, this being a Southwest flight, the Dad was at the back of the plane with their other kids. Because obviously it makes sense to make the family sit apart. This wasn’t a huge problem until the baby decided it really wanted food…that was sitting safely with the Dad off at the back of the plane. Never mind them though.

Dayna was sitting pretty at the back of the plane with a HUGE bag of M&Ms.  I was stuck 20 rows away. And they were the peanut butter ones we can only seem to get here. The traumatic memories of arriving late to the cinema as a child came streaming back.

Now as an airline, you must know that you have it wrong when you still enforce a policy that even Ryanair has long since changed and moved away from. In 2013, Ryanair announced in a statement “This return to allocated seating is Ryanair’s response to the enormous demand from our customers in recent weeks via Ryanair’s “Tell MOL” customer feedback initiative,”. This is from the airline that once threatened to introduce a charge for customers to just use the toilet. If this airline thinks a policy is harsh on customers then you should probably change it too.

So Southwest airlines, you know what would improve this massively painful experience of flying with you?

Just assign the freaking seats and let families sit together. You can still squeeze some more money out of customers and offer people the chance to pay extra for those sought after exit row seats but just assign the rest of us a seat.

Or at least offer us complimentary M&Ms.

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