MDW-DAL on Southwest

Returning to Dallas on Southwest from Chicago was a different experience.  First, we neglected to insist on avoiding Lakeshore Drive from downtown Chicago to Midway.  This found us sitting in stop and go traffic with our margin of safety time eroding quickly.  A quick tip and some encouragement to the taxi driver found us suddenly surging ahead when a hole opened and he got us there with time to spare. 

Again, I paid for Early Bird check-in on my flight.  This found me with a seat number of A group, position 37.  This is unsatisfying and I don’t believe the old “A” group went to 37.  What I’m saying is that A37 really translates into roughly B10 when you consider the number of people ahead of you and the fact that virtually every flight departing MDW originated somewhere else and already has passengers on it. I obtained a seat in the back on the aisle and that’s OK.

My security experience at MDW was unpleasant and I would say it was about average for a lot of busy airports.  In this case, I put the blame squarely on the staffers.  They were certainly moving in the Chicago Way.  One thing that found me objecting vocally were the wheelchairs.  While I stood in line with my belt and shoes in my hands, I saw 3 wheelchair bound people go to the front of the line where all three people got up, walked able bodied through the process and then sat down again. 

Sorry but being in a wheelchair does not entitle you to get in front of two dozen people waiting to move through.  I objected and the TSA offered that I was being unreasonable.  I offered that fair is fair and able bodied people in wheelchairs don’t get to go in front of me. Based on the reaction of passengers around me, public opinion was on my side.

Again, this airport is crowded and I walked the full lengths of both A and B concourses where I did not witness an empty Southwest gate.  I witnessed empty Delta gates and empty Porter Airlines gates but not one Southwest gate.  They are bursting at the seems and the gate areas don’t quite have enough space for full flights in my opinion. 

On this flight (via STL again), I witnessed person after person trying to stuff grossly overpacked and slightly oversized rollaboard cases into overhead bins.  This causes many delays when boarding the aircraft.  People move through the aisles slower, they put their things away slower and they fight for overhead bin space near their seat.  Flight attendants numbering just 3 per aircraft are not enough to keep this kind of herd flowing smoothly.  Even a few off duty Southwest staff pitched in to help and made little difference.

One staffer attempted to move my modest briefcase and light fleece jacket all the way to the back.  Uh, no, you aren’t going to penalize me for being efficient in favor of people who are apparently clueless about checking oversized bags.  My stuff took up, at best, 1/5 of the overhead bin.  I’m comfortable with that and it’s notable that just 2 fat bags were able to fit into the bin next to my stuff and the bin lid was only closed after a SWA FA essentially beat the bags down with the lid until it latched.

The flight departure was significantly delayed and I would attribute all of that to people boarding slowly, sitting down slowly, arguing for bin space instead of accepting a gate check of their bag and, last but not least, a 100% full flight.  These 100% full flights are exactly why SWA needs the Boeing 737-800 in its fleet.

Once every got seated, we did depart the gate fairly rapidly and experienced about a 10 minute taxi delay as well.  Once we took off, things settled down and the trip into STL was quick.  Taxiing into STL was efficient and deplaning went quickly.  However, once again, it was 100% full and, once again, we played baggage and seat games far longer than necessary.  This found the plane departing even later. 

Ultimately, I arrived in DAL about 40 minutes late.  That was unsatisfying because it wasn’t weather and it wasn’t the aircraft.  It was the sheer mass of people attempting to occupy too much space on that aircraft.   Southwest needs bigger gate areas to get people organized onto the aircraft and it might be time to consider some variation of assigned seating.  Too many people are jockeying for position on full aircraft and that delays things quite a bit.  Assigned seating would eliminate the jockeying and, I think, speed seating.  Unassigned seating on aircraft that are seeing 70% load factors is one thing but on aircraft that are as much as 89% load factor average, it becomes almost untenable.

All of that said, I still think the experience on both flights was as good or better than what was available to me via American Airlines, DFW and ORD airports.  And about $300 cheaper as well.  I still recommend Southwest but I also recommend that you use flights that are “no plane change” flights into and out of MDW or you may well risk making a connection.  That recommendation stands until Southwest improves its ontime rate at Midway.

One more hint:  Southwest doesn’t charge for checking your bags.  It has an excellent record when it comes to lost or misplaced baggage and it delivers checked bags to its carousels pretty quickly.  Save yourself trouble and just check your rollaboard.  You’ll find yourself able to maneuver on and off the airplane quicker.  You won’t have to fight for overhead bin space near you (and if you don’t get it near you, you’re going to be massively delayed in getting off that aircraft anyway.)  Don’t be vain and insist on taking it onboard when it is completely unnecessary on this airline.


One Response to “MDW-DAL on Southwest”

  1. Too many people are jockeying for position on full aircraft and that delays things quite a bit. Assigned seating would eliminate the jockeying and, I think, speed seating.

    [*cackle!*] Not so much a fan of cattle-call seating now, huh? Welcome to my old world.

    (still driving, still happier)

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