Southwest Airlines opened up all of Texas to those of us who didn’t have more than 2-3 days off at a time to explore the state. Suddenly we could fly from Houston to the Rio Grande Valley in one hour instead of six hours cooped up in a car. We could hit Hobby Airport on a Friday after work and be at Dick’s Last Resort on the San Antonio River Walk before the sun set.
Why Southwest was profitable
Herb Kelleher drew up Southwest’s original Texas routes on a cocktail napkin. Herb was a prankster but his vision for a profitable discount airline was no joke.
Southwest made money because it did away with a lot of luxuries we didn’t want to pay for. But mainly, it cut turnaround time to ten minutes versus one hour for many airlines. Turnaround time is how long it takes to get a load of passengers off and another load of passengers on and get the plane back in the air. Planes only make money when they are flying. The ten-minute turnaround time was the Hail Mary pass that helped save the baby airline in 1972, with pilots, attendants, and ground operations crew pitching in do things way beyond their job description to make it happen.
Southwest Airline’s unique boarding plan
To make this happen Southwest nixed assigned seating. You go an A, B, or C boarding pass and selected a seat once you were on the plane. To occupy my kids while we waited in our assigned group, we played this game.
The Lucky A’s
“The A’s are aardvarks,” I’d tell them. The A passengers were slow moving and slothful, stopping and starting as they leisurely looked for the tastiest aisle or window seat. They were clumsy and awkward as they crammed their luggage into the overheads, obviously too small for their oversized carry-on. I’d do the same thing when I scored an A boarding pass. As an aardvark, you had first pick of everything and could be oblivious to the antsy passengers behind you.
Watch out for the B’s
The B’s were badgers – snarling, snappish, impatient with the slow-moving aardvarks but aware that in this food chain, the A’s always ate first. The B’s were on high alert for any unoccupied aisle or window seat and pounced on them along with remaining overhead space. Sitting quickly, buckling in and arranging the area around them, the B’s were the passengers that would put backpacks or purses on those rare empty middle seats to discourage others from choosing them. Sort of a symbolic pissing on it to mark your territory.
Pity the C’s
Last, and definitely least were the C’s – the Coyotes in our little airborne wild kingdom. A C boarding pass labeled you as lazy or forgetful. Someone who just barely got to the airport on time. In the digital age, C’s forgot to print out their boarding pass until the last minute. You deserved a C if you did things like that.
A C-passenger was a scavenger, slinking down the center aisle, trying not to make eye contact with the content aardvarks or the bad-tempered badgers. No one ever wanted to be a coyote because whatever seat you chose, you were inconveniencing the other animals. You robbed them of that coveted open center seat. Since there was never any room left in the overheads by the time the C’s arrived, you had to stuff your bags under the seat in front of you. Some of it invariably spilled out into your seatmate’s space. Badgers weren’t above making you feel cornered. The aardvarks ignored you.
A C boarding pass was the threat that kept my kids from messing around the airport on the way to the gate.
The game goes on
No longer kids, my daughter and son are now 33 and 29 and still play the game. If they have kids, they will probably teach those offspring this law the jungle too.
I continue to love the informality of Southwest Airlines. When I was in a corporate position, my New York bosses were shocked when I requested routing so I could fly Southwest. But the suits didn’t understand my deep allegiance to this airline.
Southwest Airlines helped my family live a life of more adventure and travel. To paraphrase a SWA flight attendant that served us on the way to El Paso, “Get on quick, ’cause this Boeing is going!”