Hello and welcome to another flight report! This report documents my first time flying with Southwest, on a trip I took last fall down to Houston. People sure seem to like Southwest, so I was eager to try them for myself – did they live up to my expectations? Let's find out, shall we?
Southwest uses Terminal A at DCA, along with Frontier, Air Canada, and at the time Sun Country. Terminal A is much older than Terminal B / C used by American, Delta, United, Alaska snd JetBlue, and that was clear right from the tiny check in area. Since I wasn't checking a bag, I forewent printing a boarding pass at a Kiosk, instead heading straight for the security line with my boarding pass provided via the Southwest App.
Terminal A was extremely busy on this Tuesday evening, and security took nearly 30 minutes to clear. Once I reached the gate area, Terminal A's age became even more clear – every single seat was taken, and there was hardly any room to stand any wear in the gate area. Since I was facing a three-hour flight, I decided to get dinner prior to boarding. I got a sandwich from one of the eateries, then, since the main hallway in Terminal A is quite narrow, paid for it at one of several communal pay stations 40 feet away, right near the entrance to the circular gate area. It was quite a confusing process to pay for my sandwich, and I could clearly tell people around me were confused as well. I then had to sit on the floor to eat before boarding since no seats were available – even the window sills had been commandeered. Terminal A definitely left quite a bit to be desired.
Our inbound aircraft was a bit delayed coming from Providence, so boarding began about 15 minutes behind schedule. Southwest's boarding procedure is quite unique – in a way it's the exact opposite of what most other carriers do. You are assigned a boarding position at checkin, which you can (and should) do exactly 24 hours prior to departure. Southwest has no assigned seating, so getting an earlier boarding position gives you a better choice of seats onboard.
Because of other circumstances, I wasn't able to checkin exactly 24 hours before departure. So, I spent $15 to do what Southwest calls "earlybird check-in," which basically reserves you a spot in front of those who don't pay the extra few dollars (more or less). Either way, I was given boarding position A43, meaning I'd be the 43rd person to board.
Part of the boarding process involves physically lining up behind barriers in order by boarding position. However, Terminal A at DCA doesn't really have enough room for that. Each of the pillars denoting ten boarding positions (five on each side) were maybe 2.5 feet apart. When five people need to position themselves in that space with carryon bags and backpacks … it was pretty tight.
Boarding that evening was done through gate 2 at DCA, which is one of the handful that have hilariously short jet bridges. There is a pier that extends about 20 feet out from the gate area, then a jetway that's no more than two feet long bridges the small gap to the aircraft door. I'm not sure how aircraft that are taller or shorter than a 737 would use this gate, as there's basically no way to adjust the height of the boarding point as there is on a more typical jet bridge.
After waiting for a few minutes as people piled into the first few rows of seats, I did the same and took the first window seat that was open on the right side of the cabin, which ended up being 6F. My view of the gray winglet out the window announced that we were on a non-standard livery plane. A bit of digging on Flightradar24 revealed that this flight was being operated by N409WN, in the Triple Crown One livery.
My initial impression of the cabin was … not great. The interior walls appeared quite yellow in color, and there was very little leg room – even less than most of the American or Delta fleets.
October 2017 was the first month where Southwest had only the NG and MAX generations of 737 in service, having retired the Classics just a week before. The safety card reflected that change.
Because of the late inbound arrival, we pushed back about 25 minutes late. Seen here is the small round gate are of Terminal A, and the very short jet bridge at gate 2.
Taxi and Departure
This weekday evening departure meant we were in for a bit of taxiway wait time – there was already quite a queue waiting for departure from runway 01.
An Air Canada E175 taxiied past us heading for gate 3 while we were starting engines.
Joining the back of the queue. We were soon joined by a company 737 heading for Austin.
We crept towards runway 01 for nearly 30 minutes. I at least had a decent view of the arriving traffic.
It was an absolutely beautiful evening for flying.
Passing Dulles airport as we climbed through 10,000 feet. We then passed through a thin cloud layer.
We quickly reached our cruising altitude of 38,000.
Similar to how JetBlue does in-flight service, the flight attendants first came through the cabin with snack basket and took orders for beverages. Like almost all other domestic carriers, soft drinks were complementary and alcohol could be purchased for a few dollars. Southwest's snack options were packets of peanuts and Wheat Thins, a bit better than most other complementary options domestically.
Southwest offers Wi-Fi access on the vast majority of their flights, but on this flight it didn't seem to be working that well. The IFE offering on this flight was Live TV delivered to your personal device. However, I could not get that working because the access page didn't want to load – I watched some Netflix I had downloaded earlier. The flight tracker did work though.
The sun finally dipped below the horizon as we started descending towards the Houston area.
The massive Houston metro area coming into view.
Hobby Airport is down there, the dark area just above the engine inlet.
Final for runway 30L past one of many massive highway interchanges.
A very firm touchdown occurred about 30 minutes after scheduled time of arrival. In stereotypical Southwest tradition (and I assume since we were arriving late), the pilots taxiied to the gate at quite a high speed, probably the quickest I've ever been on a taxiway.
We arrived at gate 20 about 35 minutes past scheduled time. One interesting note was that the flight crew left the strobe lights on until well after I had deplaned, flashing into the concourse.
Finally, a look at N409WN on the way to find my hotel shuttle.
Washington - DCA
Houston - HOU
So, how was my first flight on Southwest? I'd say it was exceedingly average. I'm not the biggest fan of the boarding procedure -- especially since people early in the boarding process were clearly trying to hold seats for other people later in the queue -- the cabin appearance and legroom was nothing special, and the Wi-Fi was pretty lackluster (like many other carriers).
All in all, I didn't come away from this flight dying to get back on board for my flight back to DCA a few days later. Southwest got me from A to B safely and relatively on time, but failed to wow me.
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