South by Southwest

Having recently flown for our vacation, I have some thoughts on various aspects of dealing with Southwest.

Most of the interaction with the company was fine.

  • Buying the tickets online – fine
  • Calling customer service to add infant without a ticket – fine
  • Calling customer service the day before the flight to confirm something – fine
  • Checking luggage and getting a boarding pass at DTW – fine
  • Checking luggage and getting a boarding pass at LAS – not good

My first recommendation to Southwest – hire more pleasant, more helpful people for the Las Vegas airport

Now for some background on the problem: we did not have a birth certificate for Delta. Southwest wanted documentation that Delta is less than 2 years old.
The first phone call was to add him to my ticket, since I couldn’t buy him a ticket online. The lady on that call said we would need to bring proof of his age, such as a birth certificate, passport, or medical record.

I thought we had the birth certificate, so I didn’t think about it until the day before the flight when we were packing everything and I went to get the birth certificate and I found out it wasn’t there. I called customer service and spoke to a guy who said a medical document such as immunization record would suffice, as long as it had the boy’s birthdate on it.

We found the hospital’s record of the birth. It didn’t have Delta’s name – he was listed as “Baby Boy”. But it had my wife’s name and birthdate and Baby Boy’s birthdate, so we assumed it would work.

We got to Southwest’s counter at DTW and gave the lady the documentation. She looked it over and said, “This will work.” and she happily checked our luggage and printed us a boarding pass for the baby.

We had our vacation and everything was fine. When we got to McCarran International Airport, I wasn’t expecting to have to show his documentation again, because he was already approved on the previous flight.

There was a long line to check-in, but it moved quickly enough. They had a lady directing people to open self-serve kiosks, but the reason we were waiting in line was because I knew we had to talk to a person to print out the baby’s boarding pass. We told the directing lady exactly that – we need a person because we have a lap infant to board. She acknowledged that and then directed us to a kiosk. I typed my information into the kiosk, and it said “Please see a customer service representative”. I went back to the lady and said that the kiosk was telling me to see a person. She replied that I could just go up to any available person. So I cancelled the kiosk and all 6 of us went up to the closest available representative.

A recommendation for you who may be flying in the near future: if you know you’ll need a person not a kiosk, state that explicitly to the gatekeeper. Just telling her your situation is not good enough. Don’t expect her to know that means you’ll need a person. Tell her that the kiosk doesn’t work for your situation. And if you’re the gatekeeper, please listen when someone tells you the kiosk won’t work for them. If you want to call their bluff and ask why not, go ahead. But be sure you know the various situations that apply and let them go directly to the counter.

There were no lines at the customer service counter, so the representatives did not seem to be overworked or particularly busy. We told the man about our situation and he asked if we had checked our bags. When we said no, he let us know that it is a lot less hassle if we check our bags using the kiosk rather than having him do it. Since I was still kind of close to the kiosk, I started logging back in to check our bags. He then told us to never mind, he will check our bags for us too. But you could tell by his voice that he didn’t want to.

We told him about the lap infant, and he asked for the documentation. I fished it out and handed it to him with the explanation that I knew it wasn’t the state’s birth certificate but it was the hospital’s birth record and Southwest accepted it for the first half of our round-trip ticket. Mr. Grumpypants* then sighed, looked it over, and told us – in a voice that let us know we should be glad he was doing us a favor – that he did not have to accept it because it was not the birth certificate. And he told us it was not a good document because it was hand-written. It is true there was some hand-written information on it, but the dates of birth for both mom and baby were in the computer-printed section. I was not about to correct him on that though, since at that point, satisfied that we had been lectured enough and now understood our proper role in the grand scheme of things, he was proceeding with printing the boarding pass.

Our overall impression of him was that he was annoyed to have to deal with people. I don’t know what was going on behind the scenes – maybe he was having a bad day for other reasons. But he didn’t seem tired or sad or anything like that. Pesky customers…

But enough complaining – on to the suggested improvement for Southwest. Why do you need to confirm someone’s birthday twice? It should not have changed between the flight out and the flight back.

On the way home, we got one row all the way across. Southwest’s planes are 3 seats on each side of the aisle. Since we took up 5 seats, we found one row with ABC and DE open. Someone was in F, but she waved at the kids so she seemed okay.

It wasn’t a bad arrangement, but Gamma decided to throw a fit right then. Beta was sitting in the window seat, and Gamma wanted a window seat. He was supposed to sit in E, next to me, and my wife was supposed to be in C. He was not cooperating, so my wife started counting to let him know he was getting in trouble. He must have also bumped the seats in front of him a little, because before my wife got to 3, the ladies in the row ahead of him got up and moved.

At that point, plenty of people were still boarding, but someone a few rows up was maneuvering some luggage into the overhead rack so there was no one right around us. I (and Delta of course, who had no choice) moved into the newly-opened row and claimed the whole row for ourselves. Gamma had stopped his tantrum, so I offered him the window seat. My wife sat in C, and Delta and I sat in B.

Now seat C was open in Alpha and Beta’s row, but no one had claimed it because everyone assumed there was a parent sitting in the seat next to two young kids. When one guy who might have been a business traveller was looking around trying to find a seat, we informed him that one was open and he was glad for that. I think it was the last aisle seat available. All the late boarders on Southwest are glad for anything that’s not a middle seat.

Moral of this story: Train your kids to misbehave during boarding, just until you get the seats you want. Okay, maybe that’s not the moral. The moral is get the row in front of an exit row, because kids can’t sit there so you won’t be kicked or nudged by inattentive children.

Southwest’s boarding procedure is pretty well established. They have markings so you know where you are supposed to stand, if you have an A, B, or C group. Most of the time, though, we used the family boarding group and so we did not have a number to tell us where to stand.

Southwest, please have a designated lane or corral for family boarding. It went fine the first time – all the families lined up in an orderly fashion on their own. But the next time, we stood where we thought the families would be boarding. However, when they called family boarding, all of a sudden there were a few families crowding around and it was not so orderly.

I am used to the flight attendants pushing the refreshment cart down the aisle while they give the flyers their drinks and snacks. I was pleasantly surprised by Southwest’s system. I like that flight attendants do not block the aisle with the refreshment cart.

That is all for this post about our vacation. Stay tuned in the coming days for photos and recaps not involving Southwest Airlines. Now on to the footnotes.

* not his real name**

** actually, it might be his name. I don’t know what it is, so I can’t say that it’s not Mr. Grumpypants

But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath.

Matthew 24:20

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This little article thingy was written by Some Guy sometime around 6:18 am and has been carefully placed in the Travel category.

5 Responses to “South by Southwest”

  1. Ricky Anderson Says:

    I’m looking forward / slightly terrified about Friday. Texas, here we come.

  2. Some Guy Says:

    Do you have an emergency plan for the baby? Ours was M&Ms. He’ll stop whatever he’s doing for those. We didn’t have to use them too much though.

  3. Ricky Anderson Says:

    My emergency plan is to pretend I don’t know him.

  4. Vegas Recap, Part 1 •• Some Blog Site Says:

    […] already know how our time at the airports went, so I’ll skip those […]

  5. Vegas Recap, Part 3 •• Some Blog Site Says:

    […] there we went to the airport, bid my brother farewell, and got in line to check our bags. See this post about Southwest’s deficiencies at McCarran International Airport for more on what happened […]

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