I was at the Kentucky Derby last weekend and needed to get home early on Sunday. From Louisville, there are typically no nonstop flights to Los Angeles (United had a special one-day-only Kentucky Derby nonstop flight to LA later in the day, but it was over $800 one-way) but Southwest does have a “direct” flight to LA that makes a ground stop in Phoenix but no aircraft change. The price of that flight fluctuated greatly but I eventually locked in at a reasonable $293.
I have not flown Southwest in years — I believe the last time I flew Southwest was from San Jose, CA to Burbank, CA in 2009 — and was looking forward to what I thought would be a no-nonsense flight. Unfortunately, the trip did not go as smoothly as planned.
1. Wi-Fi Inoperable
I am sure there is fine print somewhere stating wi-fi is not guaranteed, but I would not have chosen this flight had I known there would not be wi-fi onboard. Upon boarding I noticed immediately we were on a 737-300 (it has been awhile since I’ve been on an older 737) and soon thereafter a FA made an announcement that there would be no wi-fi today (“You’ll have to talk to your neighbors the old fashioned way” she said…).
Sure, last minute aircraft swaps are commonplace, but this was not an intra-California flight: it was a 4.5 hour flight. Very disappointing.
On the Phoenix to LA leg, wi-fi was working but $8.00 for a 50-minute flight. What kind of pricing is that? Seems Southwest has a flat rate no matter the flight length.
2. “Direct” flight was not really direct
We left Louisville on time and landed on time in Phoenix — bravo. Passengers continuing to LA were told to remain seated. So we did.
After the plane had emptied out, the FA made an announcement saying, “Passengers continuing on to LA please gather your belongings and exit the aircraft. Your flight to LA will depart from Gate B19. Just show your ID at the gate, there will be no need to present boarding passes.” So much for a direct flight…
It was not even a short walk over to B19 but I thought at least we would get to “pre-board” before others since we were on a “direct” flight. Nope. The flight had already fully boarded and I was forced to take a seat in the very last row.
3. Lack of onboard meals for purchase
I was in Lexington on Saturday night and left my hotel at 4am to reach Louisville by 5:15a to board on time at 5:55a. I arrived with time to spare, but the only eatery open at SDF was Starbucks and I counted more than 70 people in line. Even had I waited, there would not have been time to get coffee and breakfast.
Onboard, Southwest serves free snacks on longer flights. What did that entail? Nabisco cookies in addition to the usual peanuts. Don’t misunderstand — I appreciate the free snacks, but having the option to purchase something heartier would have been appreciated. I realize this is not really in Southwest’s business model — it just does not work for me.
4. The Southwest people
Going back to the days of Airline on A&E (a reality series that chronicled passenger travails on Southwest), Southwest flyers seem to fall into a certain demographic. One of Southwest’s signatures is open seating and the situation went down like this–
I was traveling with my friend John, who had naturally paid the $40 extra for “Upgraded Boarding” in order to board before me. The hope was that he could secure a prime seat and no one would sit in the middle seat next to him.
He was A13, I was B28. He boarded, secured seat 4A, then told me he was holding the middle seat. Apparently another woman had the same idea and sat down in 4C. John mentioned that I was coming to the woman and she said nothing.
Anyway, turns out she was saving the seat for her husband, who happened to have B27 on his boarding pass! So he was right in front of me. The plane was filling up at this point and when he began to take 4B once onboard, I stated “I am sitting there” as he went for the seat (unaware that he was 4C’s husband).
It is open seating, so he had every right to that seat, but his wife’s reaction was priceless.
Frantically she screeched, “No, that’s his seat. Hurry up Steve and sit down! Hurry! It’s open seating here! That’s my husband. You have no right to this seat. Hurry! Just sit down!”
I chuckled and told her that I would not “steal” her seat. I even apologized for not realizing that the man in front of me was her travel companion. She smirked at me. I was taken aback by her unprovoked nasty tone. Reminded me of Airline. I find open seating uncivilized.
So in the end Southwest got me from SDF to LAX on time at a good price and I am thankful for that. I won’t fly Southwest again anytime soon, though — the issues above were annoying and travel is annoying enough already without these additional stresses that I can usually avoid when flying on United or American.