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February 25, 2009

Southwest Charms Me

Filed under: OAK,SFO,Southwest,United Airlines,Virgin America — Chris @ 8:10 pm

southwest_airlines_logoYour BAT editor flew Southwest for the first time in a L-O-O-O-N-G time last week (SFO-PHX-SFO). Having fallen for the sexy charms of Virgin America and swayed by the miles and upgrades from United in recent years, I’d neglected good ole Southwest. I won’t from now on. Overall the experience was simple, hassle-free, a great value, and generally exceeded my expectations. I’ll be back for more. Some of the changes I noticed:

  • >Easier boarding. The new boarding process works like a charm. Here’s how: you check in and queue up online for your flight exactly 24 hours prior to departure time. My first flight departed at 8:20 a.m. and I was on at 8:21 a.m. the day before. I ended up 31st in line and had no problem scoring an exit row window seat. (I was 59th on the way back and got a window on row 10 with an empty seat next to me.) Legroom was fine…probably 32 or 33 inches, which is just above industry average.
  • >Business Travelers. At boarding, I did notice that agents now allow Business Select ticket holders (higher fare class) and A-List (elite members of its Rapid Rewards program who fly at least 16 round trips per year) to board first, a signal to me that Southwest is definitely out to snare more business travelers who have steered clear due to the old boarding process.
  • >Modified Cattle Call. Southwest seems to have done away with the most distasteful and uncivil part of its boarding process that’s often derided as a “cattle call.” It’s not assigned seating, but it’s not so bad. (However, I’d be more frustrated with it if I were in a meeting or elsewhere at the 24-hour mark and missed my chance to get to the head of the line…and ended up with a middle seat on a full flight.)
  • >Planes in both directions were about 80% full, clean, new and serviced by friendly and efficient flight crews. (Can’t wait to try its onboard Wi-Fi, which is currently in beta.)
  • >Pay on board. I liked paying for a cocktail on the return flight with my credit card, which was swiped through one of those handheld wireless doo-dads. Easy.
  • > I’m still not in love with booking flights on It’s a more unwieldy experience than the other airline or booking sites we all use frequently. I’ve heard the site is getting an overhaul soon. So we’ll see about that.
  • >Terminal 1. Southwest operates out of SFO’s terminal 1, which is sorta drab compared to the bright and modern international terminal where I catch Virgin America flights. However, Virgin doesn’t flight to Phoenix.  Security lines at 7:30 a.m. where manageable, but I breezed right through using my Clear Card.
  • I fly SW out of Oakland in a coupla weeks and will report back on my experience here in THE BAT!

What do YOU think about Southwest? Have you flown them recently? How was your experience? PLEASE leave your comments below!

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1 Comment »

  1. I’m pretty fond of SWA for shorter trips. Recently another airline canceled my flight out of BUR to SFO, so I walked over to the SW counter, bought a last minute ticket for $141, and was home in an hour and a half. Only downside was I wound up in Oakland vs. SFO, but BART made it super easy to get in!
    The original airline was offering me a hotel voucher since they couldn’t get me home ’till the next day.

    Comment by Patrick — February 27, 2009 @ 9:53 pm | Reply

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