Sunday, May 11, 2008


Remember when flying Southwest was fun? Not only did it cost mere pennies if you booked far enough in advance, but their federally-regulated safety shpiel was a veritable stand-up comedy routine, complete with flying packets of peanuts and sarcasm. It was good times.

Sure, if you were flying from Manchester, NH, to Baltimore, you could almost always be 100% assured that your flight was going to be delayed by no fewer than 3-4 hours due to "weather". But damn it, you just couldn't stay mad at them when they finally got you into the air, cracked you up in spite of your angry-ass self, and managed to somehow get you there 15 minutes earlier than expected because they are totally the wreckless drivers of the air highways.

I used to love Southwest. I was one of those crazies who go to the airport hours ahead of boarding so I could be NUMERO UNO in the A line. Pack some magazines, a bottle of water, and plant myself on the floor right at the head of that line. That was the only way I could tolerate their cattle call boarding process and being the first in line meant that I was basically their one and only first class customer. There is very little in life as irrationally and fleetingly satisfying as being the first one down the jet way and on to an empty airplane, any "leather" seat yours for the taking.

If I were in any way delayed (I'm looking at you, idiot in the security line who has been living under a rock and doesnt' know that metal detectors, METAL!) and found myself third or fourth in line in the A group, or God in heaven forbid, relegated to the B group, I can only use the word "surly" to describe my demeanor for the next several hours.

So you can imagine my sheer glee the first time we traveled on Southwest with Ethan and found that we got to board BEFORE the A group. This alone was reason to keep popping babies out like a Duggar if it meant I could always be guaranteed that "first on board" rush. I loved me some Southwest.

Until yesterday. Yesterday it all came tumbling down around us (okay, so initially I used the word 'crashing' and then I freaked myself out a bit, because you dont' really want to use the word "crash" about air planes--that's got to be bad ju-ju, right?).

We woke up a bit late (dear Husband, please stop booking us on flights that leave at the crack of dawn. Thank you, your loving--and sleep deprived--wife), and it was pouring rain out. If you've driven in or near DC, you know that when it rains, otherwise sane drivers lose all sense and go about 20 miles an hour. On I-95.

There were two lines at the SouthWest check-in; one was about 100 people deep, the other only a handful. As we approached, we were asked if Ethan was a lap baby; the correct answer to this question would have apparently gotten us into the tiny line. We gave the wrong answer and wound up standing behind 99 of our fellow travelers.

The line moved quickly because Husband and I proceeded to fill the time with a....erm, discussion about whether or not we should have lied to the gentlemen and said that, "yes, he's a lap baby,". This is what Husband thought we should have done. It would have gotten us into the shorter, faster moving line. However, the reason lap babies end up in that line is because they require birth certificates to prove that they're "under age" (2) and thus qualify to squirm on a parent's lap for the duration of the flight.

Husband assumed that were we to tell the little white lie, once we got to the front of the line, they would just roll their eyes at us, process our baggage and let us through with a "you crazy customers! ha ha ha!" shake of the head. He suggested that perhaps we say that gentleman just assumed Ethan was a lap baby and let us through to the short line without asking the actual question (which, in Husband's defense, Ethan is small enough to look under 2. It could happen). Husband like to, shall we say, "massage" the system.

I thought--A.) When we get to the front of the line and do not have the appropriate paper work to prove Ethan's "lap-worthiness", they would NOT shake their heads in 1950's style, "you crazy kids!" and send us on their way. They would scowl at us and sending us packing, back to the line 'o 100+. And then what would have accomplished but missing our plane due to all that extra standing in line? B.) I so did not want to screw the guy directing traffic by rolling him under the bus to his peers for a mistake he didn't even make. Please. I watch My Name Is Earl--I don't need karma kicking my ass, thank you very much. And C.) What the hell do we do with this hulking Britax carseat we're planning on strapping Ethan into on the plane if we are supposedly toting a lap baby?

So, long story long, we waited in the ginormous line, followed by the ginormous security line. We hustled our way to our gate to find them already knee-deep into the A group. My pulse quickens. I knew they would be at this point and I was prepared for it--we didn't even have A tickets. We've grown complacent about our online check in since Ethan, considering we know we will get to pre-board, so our tickets say "B" on them anyway.

We figure that we can just walk up and board NOW because "Look! Carseat! Fidgety toddler! We're a FAMILY WITH A SMALL CHILD UNDER THE AGE OF FIVE! Let me on the plane!!"

(Cue the sound of screeching breaks and breaking glass)

Southwest has changed their "family boarding" policy.

They now let families with small children under the age of 5 on the plane only AFTER the "A" group boards. So we had to wait until the rest of the A people got on board before we and 3 other families with squirming children were allowed down the jet way.

Of course, that means there was a back up on the jet way. Ethan squirmed to get down. Then we had to hold our breaths as we came around the corner into the plane in hopes that we'd find 3 seats together. Husband hit approximately three or four fellow passengers with aforementioned hulking Britax car seat before we found our family-friendly row and then proceeded to hold up the entire "B" boarding group behind us as we finagled the carseat out of it Go-Go Babyz wheel-set and into the window seat.

We were by far the plane favorites. When we asked the flight attendant what the deal was she said, "If you don't like it, you can write the company,". Okay, lady and what's your name exactly so I can be sure to express my pleasure at your attitude while I'm at it? Hmmmm?

Sure, they tried their little comedy routine on me before take off, but you know what? I'm over it. It was funny in 1999. Now? Not so much.

After settling in, I realize we've not had food or drink yet this morning and there is nothing on this plane but complimentary soft drinks and tiny packs of peanuts. Those of you who know me know that if I get too hungry, what Husband calls "the beast" comes out. It is not pretty, and nothing keeps her at bay.

So I was super thrilled when I learned of some of their other "new" policies. NOTHING can now be stored in the seat back pockets except SouthWest materials. No bottles of water, none of your own books, no sippy cups. Nada. So basically they are a giant tease of a storage space and don't touch, you dirty, stupid passenger. What???!!

Also? We had to turn the volume on our computer off when trying to let Ethan watch Bee Movie. Mind you I was sitting in the aisle seat while the computer was on Husband tray next to me. I could not hear the audio enough to even make sense of what Jerry Seinfeld was blathering on about. But the flight attendant came over and told me I could "look it up in our policy" and that I had to turn the volume completely off OR put headphones on my 2 year old. So I turned off the volume. And then noticed that I could hear EVERY LOUD OBNOXIOUS word and gaffaw of snorty laughter coming from the gaggle of women three rows behind us. And our Bee Movie on volume level 3 was what was going to disturb everyone on the plane.

After the whole "plane inspection?! We don't need no stinking plane inspection!" fiasco they just weather in the national press, you'd think Southwest would be bending over backwards to appease their customers and prostrating themselves in gratitude that people are still willing to fork over money, no matter how little, to ride in their heaps of tin (which shimmy too much for my liking, thanks). But instead, they are changing policies into utter nonsense and giving their flight attendants license to bitch-at-will to harried customers who just want to keep their kids from kicking the person in front of them by giving them a little entertainment.

Seriously, we are SO done with Southworst. And even though it is generally not in my nature to complain in an official capacity, I do think I will be writing a letter.


Becca said...

YES! Their new "family boarding" policy SUUUUUCKS. And wth is with those ridiculous numbers? I used to love Southwest too, but now all air travel just pisses me off. You just can't win.

Sarah said...

"popping out kids like a Duggar" is awesome!

you should try midwest-- like flying in a doge van with refurbished pleather seats and warm cookies. also? the seats have ash trays in the arms, so those are some ooooooold planes.

Leap Year Dad said...

Southwest on the long haul flights (i.e. MHT to LAS) has the tendancy to grow old, real quick, but I haven't dragged the family unit on it yet. I've only flown in the business class section.

Remember, Every seat on Southwest is first class !

Anonymous said...

I agree with Sarah, Midwest is great, a bit more $$ but well worth it. Their warm chocolate chip cookies are the best!

Kate said...

Having just returned home today from a trip on United, I can tell you it's not much better!

Amy said...

The new boarding policy for families is asinine. You should get more time if you have kid -- because as you demonstrated, you hold up the whole plane getting settled.

Alice said...

They used to (and still do, since I was just at one of these "corporate success" nonsense things) tote Southwest as one of these marketing success stories because they decided to "think outside the box" and fly point to point, dirt cheap and had a good/irreverent attitude regarding customer service at a time when the other airlines couldn't care less. Too bad it couldn't last.

Manhattan Mama said...

I swear the only airline I can fly now with The Rabbit is JetBlue and of course they've raised their prices so much that I could practically hire my own plane for less. I flew from Burbank to NYC in February -- on the same flight as Crispin Glover I might ad -- and had no problem dragging my daughter to the front of the line claiming, "Mommies first! Mommies first!" And we were.