Southwest Airlines: Where Anarchy Reigns Supreme
Am I the only one who thinks everything about Southwest Airlines is absolutely ridiculous? I mean, the whole process -- from the kooky khaki shorts worn by the flight attendants to their penchant for stand-up comedy during in-flight safety instructions -- just makes me want yank out my paper barf bag.
I was reminded of this during a recent Fourth of July trip to Florida. Making my way to the terminal and settling in, I read about one page of my book before being interrupted by the booming voice of a Southwest agent who looked not unlike the Bounty paper towel man (but unfortunately stuffed into the aforementioned shorts), cracking jokes with customers. Well, he thought they were jokes. The woman was elderly and in a wheelchair; he was transporting her into the "Preboarding" aisle. Once settled, he looked at her, smiled and said -- loudly -- "OK, now, you don't go anywhere, you hear?"
My jaw literally dropped open as I swung my head around to see if anyone else was equally horrified. Only they were too busy gathering their belongings and preparing to camp out in the "A," "B," and "C" aisles because, as we all know, Southwest has No! Assigned! Seating!
So, with around 90 minutes to spare before the flight even began boarding, businesswomen in skirt suits and dreadlocked teenagers alike were sitting on the frigging ground, lined up in amusement park-like aisles, complete with little yellow flags marking the front. The end result is nothing short of chaotic, encouraging people to push and shove their way to the front to get a coveted window or aisle seat. Then, when the plane arrived, Bounty Man announced, "Hey, what do y'all say we switch it up and have Aisle C go first?!" There was one woman standing in Aisle C and all 150 people in A and B turned to stare death rays at her until someone yelled, "Let us on!" The ultra-laid back attitude of the staff fosters a free-for-all atmosphere and before you know it, it's like some sort of jetbridge Running of the Bulls, with people scurrying here and there, trampling over family members to reach the aircraft. I half-way expected the pilot to be standing at the end, crouched down, hand held out, high-fiving each of us as we charged onto the plane.
So, I get on the plane and see that it is decorated with heart-shaped American flag cut-outs. As in, they are taped to the insides of the aircraft. Perhaps these will be taken down and replaced with Jack-o-Lanterns in October?
Arts and crafts aside, I find a window seat and settle in to nap...but not before I hear the flight attendant explain over the loudspeaker that, "There is no smoking allowed in the lavatories. If you are caught smoking, there is a $1000 fine and, let's face it, if you could afford that, you'd be flying American." She is saying this out loud. Am I being Punked? (Later, in Florida, I compare notes with my brother and learn that he has heard this exact same line on another Southwest flight which makes me wonder, Are they actually taught to say this? And if so...HUH?)
The flying itself was smooth and I fell asleep, waking up an hour later to find a granola bar in my lap. I think this is sweet at first but then I realize this means someone was actually hovering over my crotch and softly placed the oatmeal raisin bar down gently enough so as not to wake me. Ew.
As I pick up my snack, I think back to the few other times I've flown the friendly skies on this airline and remember the time that pillows and blankets were delivered to passengers football-style, thrown overhead while wrapped in plastic.
Then there was the time the pilot randomly, mid-flight, got on his speaker and announced to the cabin not the weather in the city we were approaching or pointing out some natural wonder down below, but simply asked, "So, did you hear the one about the donkey...?" Only he never finished. That was it. Maybe there was a checkers game being played in the cockpit and he got caught up. All we heard was our pilot, the man we were entrusting our lives with, miles up in the air, mindlessly asking us about a donkey and then never even coming up with a punchline.
People say measures like no assigned seating, casual attire and a self-proclaimed "flight crew/clean-up committee" help cut costs, but my ticket was $300 just to go from Midway to Ft. Lauderdale. I shutter to think that any of that money went to improv lessons.