In which Southwest Airlines says I have a problem

May 24, 2010

I think that Southwest Airlines has secretly “cut me off” from partaking in any alcoholic beverages on their flights. No, really, it’s a conspiracy and here’s why.

Due to my temporary commute between Phoenix and San Diego, I have been flying the friendly skies twice a week. PHX-SAN on Monday morning, SAN-PHX on Friday evening. The husband and I have become big fans of Southwest’s “Business Select.” Had you asked me what I thought of Business Select six months ago, and I would have told you it was a $15 waste of money. I mean, who needs a free drink coupon, right?

But there are several perks that make that $15 worth every penny, the first of which is: priority security lines.  As Business select, you get to run through what is essentially the first-class or employee security line, which is usually very short. The second perk I like? Priority boarding. Now, I used to be one of those people who thought, a seat is a seat, right? Especially on a short flight – I laughed at those fools who would stand in line for an hour at the gate just to have a good seat on an hour and a half flight. I mean, really.
Then something happened to change my mind.

Whenever I had a flight with an assigned seat (e.g. any airline other than Southwest), I never hurried to the gate. The bottom line was that I was sitting in the same seat no matter when I boarded the airplane, so why spend more time in a stuffy metal tube than necessary? Until one Christmas when I had a flight to my parent’s house in Michigan. I was checked in plenty early and I even had an assigned seat. In fact, the seat number was written on my boarding pass. We were shuffling up to the gate where the stewardess was taking tickets when suddenly she stopped the person in line in front of me.

“I’m sorry ma’am, but this flight is full. I can’t let you board.”


With no warning whatsoever, they simply just stopped letting people on the plane. The flight was overweight and regardless of the fact that myself, the lady in front of me, and the ten people behind me had assigned seats, we were not getting on that flight. To make a long story short, there was no other flight out that day, or the next, or any day until after Christmas. There were no rental cars until the next morning and the airline couldn’t even secure us a bus. The whole time I was kicking myself, because had I just gotten in that line sooner and actually boarded with my boarding group, I would have been happily en route to my destination instead of stranded at the airport right before Christmas.

Needless to say, ever since then I am much more prudent about boarding the airplane. I don’t worry so much on the PHX-LAX or PHX-SAN or PHX-LAS flights, because they’re a dime a dozen and getting on another flight is usually relatively simple, but there’s another problem on those flights for which priority boarding is very useful. And that is the overhead bin space. Nobody wants to check their luggage these days, even on airlines like Southwest that don’t charge for it. So if you’re on a full flight, and you’re in the last two-thirds of the people boarding, chances are you’ll have to check your luggage and wait for it at baggage claim.

But back to what started this whole ordeal. The third perk of Business Select: drink coupons for one free alcoholic beverage (plain old sodas and water are still free). To be honest, I probably have more drink coupons than I can use. The flight is short enough that I barely have time to enjoy my beer before it’s seatback up and tray tables stowed for landing. And also, I can’t use them on those Monday flights. Work day, and all. However, ever since last Monday, Southwest has been mysteriously neglecting to give me my “free beverage” coupon.

Last Monday, I got to the airport and went to the kiosk by the gate to print my boarding pass. It printed my boarding pass (1 of 2) and then my drink coupon (2 of 2)… but my drink coupon got jammed in the machine. I looked around. I waited a few seconds. I watched the screen, and rolled my eyes in disgust when it flashed onto a plain display that read “Out of Order. Please use next kiosk.”

Great. I reach my hand into the kiosk… if I stretched, I could just grab the tip of the paper. After a lot of fumbling and almost giving up twice, I managed to grab on to the paper and pull.. riip. It tore out right at the perforation, which meant the part of the paper that actually serves as the coupon was still stuck in the machine.

Friday, I print out my boarding pass at the office. I swing by the printer and grab the papers on my way out the door. Halfway to the airport, I realize it has only printed out the boarding pass. No drink coupon. This is the second time in a row!

And then there was this morning. As I approached the kiosk, I noticed it was the same kiosk that had done me wrong the week before. I eyed it warily. It blinked back with it’s helpful “check in here” sign. I checked in, it printed my boarding pass, and it printed my drink coupon… then stopped. It was Déjà vu – my drink coupon was stuck in the kiosk in exactly the same manner as the Monday before. The screen switched over to its out-of-order “Please use next kiosk” screen.

Seriously? Am I cut off or what?

EDIT: The husband got a letter in the mail from Southwest Airlines today, ironically.  They were awarding him 4 free drink coupons as an appreciation for his many flights.  Of course, this meant he had to walk over to me and wave the envelope in my face, while saying the grownup equivalent of "Nah-nah-nah." 



kate said...

That's the perk of having worked for an airline - whenever I check in while in Kansas City, I usually get handed a stack of about 40 drink coupons from someone that I used to work with. I've got a stash big enough at this point that I could probably fly every day for about a year and not run out of booze :)