Sunday, April 29, 2012

The SouthWest Experience

A week after we arrived Duluth I decided to look for flights to Newark to visit my brother and his family. Several options came up but top priority is value for money. We've been on various US airlines over the years we've been to the States but this time SouthWest popped up as the airline to fly not only for its cheaper fare but also my impression that it is a friendly airline. Furthermore we've never flown on it before so I booked our fares online. This post is my impression of SouthWest.

I like its logo. Logo speaks volume about an organization and the SouthWest logo which is the outline of a red loving heart encircled by a flight wing tells me it desires to be a caring airline. This I have to confirm.

The experience began when we arrived at the SouthWest check-in counter at 9.15am yesterday. A good friend of my son, Eric, drove us to the airport. I had our boarding passes printed out at one of the kiosks. What I found different in the passes is additional information not found on standard passes. The SW passes contain information on Group and Position which I couldn't understand until we arrived at the departure gate. I'm not sure if this is the airport or airline feature (but I am inclined to believe it is at other airline departure lounges as well) but I'm pleasantly surprised to see charging ports everywhere, both USB and power sockets, for cellphone and electronic gadget charging. I thought this very sensible and customer friendly although I don't need to use it.

From the information display monitors I learned how the Group/Position concept works. During the check-in process each passenger is randomly assigned this number. During the boarding call-up the passengers are to line up according to the queue and positions so there is orderly entry into the aircraft. Upon entry the passenger can choose any seat as it is not pre-assigned. This idea may not go down well with some travelers who prefer certain positions and want the right to choose seats. But for SW which operates in between a full service and budget airline segment (this is my impression) this boarding arrangement is unrushed and senior friendly.

Our flight includes a change of plane at Baltimore/Washington airport. We disembark right into the SW dedicated terminal and took lunch. The ambience was homely. The display wasn't high tech. Later when I learned from the announcement over the PA system that the flight to Newark would be delayed I was pleased that they gave a reason, even make light of this by throwing in jovial remarks to keep the passengers relaxed. At the central station they just stick a piece of cardboard that says 'DELAYED' next to the scheduled departure time 2.20.

When the flight eventually took off we were served complimentary peanuts/pretzels and soft drinks. Other food and drinks may be purchased. The mandatory flight safety demonstration was brief. There are no TV screens, the B737 is basic but comfortable. In 33 minutes we landed in Newark.

I think what separates SW from othe airlines is reduced formality from online booking to the actual flight experience. Even the flight crew attire reflects this. I couldn't get online but later I received an email notification of the flight delay. Thoughtful.

I think I'll fly SouthWest again. If they can acquire another US airline, AirTran, they must be doing right.

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