When I chose the airlines to go on vacation, I’ll admit I chose one for the price. Southwest Air gets such great reviews. Those funny safety announcements. No first class. And no, I did not read the fine print. How I wish I had!
Air travel is long past fun, not even close to pleasant, but I was hoping for bearable. Because so many people I know raved about Southwest, I felt dowdy and controlling when I wasn’t thrilled with no seat assignment.
At Southwest, you are assigned a spot in line and then “sit anywhere you want.” No, that’s just not true. You sit in the best seat you can find once you are on the airplane. Middle seats are not my favorite. The weight loss didn’t cure my claustrophobia.
So many people love Southwest Air. So I booked. Saved about $500 on the whole trip. Who could hate it? Yeah, I did.
First of all, you have to sign in exactly 24 hours in advance of our plane for any chance at a decent place in line. Signing in determines your place in line. So the day before you fly, you have to make arrangements to be available to sign in. I was teaching that day. So, someone else signed in for me. The airline has a confusing process in which they try very hard to sell you an early boarding permit, in which they sign you in 36 hours in advance. Unfortunately, the person who signed in for me thought it was mandatory (it does look a bit like that), so I paid for something that gained me nothing.
The boarding process brings out the absolute worst in people. Because there are no assigned seats,
people who get on first store their carry-ons as far forward as they can, they move back to find a seat they like. By the time I got on, I had to store my carry-on five rows behind my seat. That required me to toss a book on the seat, then move back to store the bag, then fight my way forward to get back to my seat, with a flight attendant yelling, “We need to take off, just sit!”
There are snarls of people pushing around in the aisle. “Snarl” is the operative word here. It was ugly. I did not get to sit next to my husband. The airplane did leave on time. Because it is cheaper to fly in segments, I had to retrieve my suitcase five rows back before I ran to the next gate. I felt like a spawning salmon, fighting against the stream. Someone stepped on my foot. Hard. Another person pushed me in the ribs, saying, “You won’t get past me.” And I didn’t. He had stored his suitcase 10 rows ahead of where he sat, so he was set. No helping others.
The trip home was worse. I am not blaming Southwest for the air traffic controller problem. I am blaming them for badly-trained customer service employees, surly behavior on the part of flight attendants, and designing a process that brings out the worst in everyone. With the trip cancellation, I wound up spending about $1,000 more on the trip than I wanted. They refused to re-book me on another airline.
So, Southwest Air, I heard you when you said, “You have a choice of airlines when you fly,” and I’m choosing something else. That boarding process brings out the worst in humanity–fierce physical behavior and meanness. I don’t want to participate.
—-Quinn McDonald learned that cheap is not always best. Or even close.