Southwest vs. American

It’s a preference thing around these parts: Southwest Airlines and American Airlines have their business homes in DFW.

American flies out of the huge DFW Airport located between Dallas and Fort Worth. They have reserved seats and their flight attendants play it straight and it’s more “traditional” airline travel. Generally, it costs a little more. American Airlines has their name on the big arena downtown…and you get a fake boarding pass when you enter most games and they give away free flights based on drawings.

Southwest flies out of Love Field which is very close to downtown Dallas. They have a system where you get a number based on your order of check-in and the pilots make funny announcements and it’s more “just get there” airline travel. Generally, it’s a “no-frills” kind of deal and you can save a few bucks. Southwest has a major advertising presence at the baseball park the Rangers play in. The “H” in their logo lights up when a hit takes place, and the “E” lights up upon fielding errors.

So, most folks in our area have done both airlines on several occasions. People here have opinions on each, too. Like the Southwest frequenters tend to know the system and check in on-line at 12:01 AM the day of their flight so they can get early boarding numbers, hence good seats. American travelers like the frequent-flier miles they can rack up and priority boarding/seating, etc.

And last night, that difference was highlighted in spades…although it could’ve happened on any airline.

We were on Southwest and didn’t check-in on-line and got a late boarding number. Our group of six split up into couples and got some of the last seats in the rear of the plane that had two together. A few minutes after us a couple got on and you could tell they were annoyed. She mumbled that she and her husband didn’t get to sit together on their flight to Las Vegas and it was their anniversary and now that they were going back she really wanted to sit with her husband.

The husband then announced he was giving $20 to anyone that would slide over and make room for two seats together.

At this point, I should say that there’s a rowdy group of 20 year olds having an absolute ball in the back section of the plane. They’re laughing loudly. They’re telling stories like crazy that involved bumping into hookers and the money they lost gambling and general 20 year old views on things. “Dude. I was standing there and that roulette chick just fires the ball into the slot on the wheel and that ball is going like a million miles an hour and I was like, “Damn, Gina. How in the hell does she make that ball go so freakin’ fast?” and all these dudes are like throwing these chips on numbers and colors and I don’t know what the hell is going on and then the roulette chick waves her hand and everybody stops moving and I’m wondering when that ball is gonna stop and where it’s gonna land and then I told the waitress that I didn’t want her cheap watered-down free drink. The next thing I know that ball is bouncing around in the wheel and this dude with a ton of bling wins big and the roulette chick rakes in a ton of chips into this little hole. Totally blew my mind, dude!”

The six of them proceed to HOWL with laughter.

Those within earshot, and by earshot I mean the back third of the plane, giggle and the six of them because the story isn’t that funny but they think it’s hysterical.

The wife-half of the anniversary couple then announces that there’s $100 bucks to anyone that moves so they can sit together because it’s their anniversary and she just wants to sit next to her husband on the flight home.

Rule of thumb: If you offer $100 bucks to 20 year olds for sliding over four feet, expect that offer not to last too long.

Rule of thumb: Be quicker to jump when such offers are made. Then Vegas “entertainment” fee for the McKinney family breaks even on for the trip.

Well, there was this party girl in the crowd who took the $100. The anniversary couple is now in the back corner of the plane surrounded by the storytellers/howlers.

The party girl who took the $100 then began to regale the other 20 year olds and those within earshot (re: back third of the plane) of stories of drink specials and money lost and rude people encountered and hookers avoided and drunk stories of her friends and rude people at work and invited the 20 year olds out for drinks when the plane lands and where her mother lives and on and on and on.

Maybe she’ll stop when we pull away from the gate.
Maybe she’ll stop when we are finished taxiing.
Maybe she’ll stop after we take off.
Maybe she’ll stop when we’re allowed to use our approved electrical devices.
Maybe she’ll stop when we’re leveled off at 39,000 feet.
Maybe she’ll stop when we’re making our approach into San Antonio.

No. She didn’t stop for the 3:25 we were in the air.

The back third of the plane was worn out. My wife even had an iPod for watching a movie with headphones on and could still hear every word.

When she deplaned in San Antonio and was out of earshot (we had 30 minutes on the ground of our “non-stop service” to Dallas, so I guess Southwest has a different definition of non-stop than American) I turned and asked the anniversary lady if that was the WORST $100 dollars she ever spent.

To which she replied, “I’m never flying Southwest again. This is awful. The way they board is horrible if you don’t know how the check-in system works. These kinds of cheap fares puts you at greater risk for having obnoxious college kids all around you. This isn’t non-stop. You only get peanuts and you have to ask for a whole can of soda. We did this to see if the savings were worth it. They weren’t.”

Now, I’m of the opinion that you can wind up with a crying baby for a long flight on any airline. Or get seated next to the bouncing, coloring, question-asking 5-year-old. Or get behind the two teenagers who didn’t get seated with their high school youth group ski trip contingent. Or the hard-drinking boor of a businessperson gets the seat next to you and wants to chat about widgets for the whole trip. Or the college kids basking in their exaggerations and overamusement with themselves.

But the anniversary lady was convinced that the “Greyhound of the Skies” was at the root of all this. That their way of doing business created the kind of clientele–or at least set up the kind of atmosphere–that allows for this sort of behavior.

Personally, to me…it’s the deal. This airline was going to the place I needed to get to at the time I wanted to get there for about the amount of money I had to spend. I don’t care if there’s soda or more than peanuts. I don’t care if it’s assigned seats or not. I don’t care if the flight attendants and pilots are joking around or “professional.” I know the drill on each airline. So, I adjust accordingly.

But I was wondering today what you thought about the anniversary lady’s opinion. Does the “image” of Southwest encourage that kind of revelry any more than American’s “image” squelches it? Do you have a preference of “style” on an airline and why or why not?

At the end of the day, I can tell you this: I’d like to record every word those 6 college kids said for 5 days in Las Vegas and transcribe it and call the essay, “A 6-Year-Old Brain’s Report of Las Vegas In A 24-Year-Old’s Body.” But I don’t think the airline had anything to do with it.