Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Aboard Southwest

The Southwest fleet at McCarran Airport, Las Vegas

When the pilot changed the approach to Las Vegas, I got this surprise view of the front of Hoover Dam and the new bridge downstream of the dam.

With modern air travel, there is stirring aviation inside and outside the terminals. Here is The Barnstormer, a larger than life sculpture by Harrison Covington, at the Tampa International Airport. Photo by David Lawrence.

On a recent spring trip, I saw a wall of fog lifting off the Hudson River, flowing across fields and streaming west to the Catskill mountains.

This spring trip was a Southwest Airlines flight from Albany, New York to Burbank, California. At ground level, I have seen the drama of the Hudson pumping out fog. But you need to be thousands of feet overhead to get the full effect of the collision between warm air and cold water.

Southwest is our main airline for traveling between the East Coast, West Coast and North Coast. It has a convenient, yet efficient schedule, particularly between Albany and the West Coast. The prices are reasonable, there are few nuisance fees and the on-time record is among the best in the industry.

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of flying Southwest is its staff. The airline’s reservations and check-in are almost entirely computerized. However, if you have a question or problem, there is a real person available toll-free, at check-in or at the gate. In planning for a trip, I found my reservation was muddled. Gail and Deanna helped me put things right and saved me a walk across several states with deserts or humid weather.

Recently on a trip from Burbank to Albany, I benefited from Southwest’s effective marriage of people and technology. My flight home via Las Vegas’ McCarran Airport was going to be delayed. Rather than let me sit in California and miss the connecting flight, Southwest staff found me at the gate and got me on an earlier flight. The seating was more cramped than it would have been on the later flight but I got home in the same day. (In the interest of full disclosure, I had a similar experience three years ago with a United flight from Iowa to Albany.)

Southwest’s flight crews often bring a cock-eyed wit to cabin announcements. On the Tampa/Las Vegas leg of a flight to Burbank, Susan, opened an explanation of using oxygen masks by saying, “If you are traveling with children - - or anyone acting like a child . . .”

According to Brian Lusk, a Southwest public information staffer, “this wit comes partly from training, partly from personality and partly from the situation.”

The food on Southwest is non-descript. However, the assorted snack packs are served in a welcoming manner and the food on other transcontinental flights does not seem to be much better. It is possible to bring food on-board, something I plan to try to get better food than is found airport concessions.

On a recent flight, the pilot changed course on the approach to Las Vegas. This provided a great view of Hoover Dam and the new bridge nearly complete, just downstream. Last fall, inbound to Burbank, we saw a large, white billowing smoke cloud from the Station Fire. The smoke was as high and wide, it seemed as that from the eruption of Mount St. Helens.

One of the best views on Southwest is when the plane is about to touch down on the destination runway. Of course, this view is bittersweet. It’s nice to be heading on vacation or coming home. But it’s also a little hard to go from skilled and caring people to the randomness of the outside world.

For more in formation on Southwest, go to

For information on the Hoover Dam bridge project, go to

For more information on Tampa Airport, go to

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