We continue our Flight Review series, this time back in the USA on our way to Texas for SXSW. Instead of flying directly to Austin, I flew in via San Antonio – about 90 minutes drive from Austin – to bring you a run of coverage that you’ll be seeing online soon. Flying Southwest to get there via an affordable direct flight, here’s my review of their service:
Airline: Southwest Airlines
Route: Southwest to San Antonio
Seat: 3E (Middle)
Aircraft: Boeing 737-700
Class: Economy (Only Class Available)
Flight Time: 2 Hours 40 Minutes
On Schedule? Yes
Frequent Flyer Program: Rapid Rewards
Lounge Access: None
Web Check-In? Yes
Mobile Check-In? Yes
Points and Status Credits Earned: Yes
Meal Service: One non-alcoholic drink and snacks (trail mix and nuts in this instance) are provided, and then they do a couple of runs of water and juices throughout the flight. Alcoholic Drinks are available for $5.
In-Flight Entertainment: Live TV is included featuring 19 channels, from national news networks, New York based stations like NBC to channels the Food Network (which is always pretty entertaining). The stations are accessible via their in flight wi-fi, through your own device. For an additional $8 you can access the internet yourself and for $5 they have a selection of films available to “rent”.
Comfort: This is a pretty standard low-cost 3-3 setup, that is akin to the likes of Jetstar in Australia. The big difference between Southwest and other airlines, however, is that rather than being given a seat number, you’re given a boarding number. So – you need to check in as early as possible to get the earliest boarding number to avoid the middle seat, or pay extra to be one of the first 15 people to board. You’ll want to make sure you check in online AND bring a print out of your ticket to achieve that. Even though I arrived at the airport 4 hours before my flight was due to depart, I was still one of the last people to check in, which meant I was one of the last to board and ended up with a middle seat, albeit close to the front of the plane. For the minimal duration though it’s totally fine – pending the people you’re sitting next to of course.
Flight Experience: It was a bumpy ride, which seems common for these routes but that meant that the seat belt sign was on for almost the entire flight – which prohibited bathroom visitation… and due to post 9/11 rules in the USA, you can’t line up for the bathroom, so it was quite a battle to get the bathroom during the rare moments it was available. The seat belt sign did seem unnecessary for a lot of the journey, but we did keep a couple of rough patches so you can only assume they were just being cautious.
Customer Service: There were a couple of unhappy passengers who really needed to go to the bathroom, and they made sure they were looked after as soon as they were able to. But I didn’t envy the task with the passengers in question. Staff were patient and courteous and did their best to look after everyone with drinks and snacks throughout the flight and in the spirit of ensuring a positive atmosphere throughout the duration of the journey, the hostesses even sung a song about Southwest Airlines as we landed. As you do. As a regular Southwest customer, this is not normal I assure you, but the passengers seemed to like it all the same.
Baggage: Two pieces at 50lbs (23kg) each are permitted, and included in your ticket price, which is unheard of for domestic travel these days. Keep in mind an extra US$25 per bag for their competitors and you’ll realise just how affordable a Southwest flight is. Book early and you really will be looking at “unbeatable fares”, on direct routes that almost no one else offers.
Hot Tip #1: Southwest flights often continue on to other destinations shortly after they land. This flight for instance, had a mix of people who had San Antonio as a final destination and others who stayed on board for another. So even if a flight with Southwest may not be “Direct”, your delays for a stop off are potentially quite minimal. I often fly back via El Paso from Austin to get to LA and it doesn’t add that much to the journey – it has just happened to be the most affordable fare at the time.
Hot Tip #2: Southwest don’t officially list themselves on any website but their own. Before you book anywhere in the USA – even when you’re using a comparison tool like Skyscanner – make sure to double check Southwest’s website (http://www.southwest.com) first. You’ll likely find a cheaper fare – and be sure to keep the fact baggage is included in mind.
The writer flew at his own expense.