We all look for ways to save money when we travel. Sometimes though, we have to ask ourselves what is more important: saving money or convenience. It is even harder when we have to fly to get where we are going. With all the options out there for buying plane tickets on the various travel sites it’s hard to know which end is up. I personally prefer driving when I travel. For me it’s less hassle and often cheaper. I have no limits on bags, I have freedom to stop and go and all that jazz. Sometimes though time constraints don’t allow me to fly and on my recent vacation to Florida with my girlfriend we only had a limited amount of time.
Back in the day (5 years ago give or take) Allegiant Air was the most obvious choice when I was flying down here form Michigan. Back then it was normal to be able to get a flight for 50-80 one way. Now however those prices are gone like a fart in the wind much like free checked bags. So weeks ago when I began planning this trip I (as most travelers do) poured through the various travel sites looking for the best deal. I played with dates and airports. I used site like Expedia, Travelocity, Delta, United and of course allegiant. It all got really annoying and frankly pissed me off. The whole point of flying is for the convenience right? Apparently the airlines forgot about that. Allegiant was still somewhat cheap if I wanted to fly from good ol Grand Rapids Michigan to Orlando then from Ft. Lauderdale to Grand rapids on the way home. Keep in mind we are here visiting my mom who lives in Sarasota which lies just south of Tampa. So driving clear across the state to get a flight going home wasn’t exactly a thrilling notion.
Recently Southwest Airlines began flying out of Grand Rapids with direct flights to Tampa. That is who I went with. We got 2 roundtrips tickets for 450ish (a great deal) and 2 FREE checked bags each plus carry on. When I was shopping the free bags was a plus. Allegiant was close in price but inconvenient as hell and the bags would have tacked on nearly 200 bucks….hell no. I knew we would need room for stuff and I am notorious for over packing on trips. I have never flown with southwest before and wasn’t sure what to expect. Often with discount airlines I feel like I would be better off in box on a fedex plane.
Southwest does things differently. You board in group (A,B,C) and then by number. Gerald R Ford Airport in Grand Rapids sucks (just like the city) and doesn’t have the setup needed to utilize Southwest’s boarding scheme very well. Since I have flown many times before and am a member a few frequent flyer programs I was smart enough to check in early 24 hours before our flight giving us a seating numbers in the top 10 in group B. Group A is essentially people in wheel chairs, people with kids and special rewards members or people who paid extra for early boarding.
Of course there is the normal mad rush to get in line and they don’t hold your hand treat you like an idiot or a child. They expect you to act like an informed adult. God forbid you follow direction about the boarding process which is clearly outlined on the ticket and repeated a few times over the intercom. It’s one of those situations where you are expected to COMMUNICATE with other people in line. Once they announced boarding for group B people rushed all up in line. Stacey and I got a few looks as we headed up to the front of the line….I know where I belong. I wasn’t sorry I can’t help I was on the ball about checking in and others were not. The whole process was pretty quick and bullshit free since our flight took off 15 minutes before we were supposed to because people boarded so quick.
You don’t get assigned seats on southwest you take what you can and leave the rest behind. It’s like being a pirate in the sky. Stacey being pregnant and this being only the 2nd time she’s flown was concerned we would not be able to sit together. I rational concern that I was more than willing to get fixed if it was an issue; it wasn’t. We got great seats near the back TOGETHER (3 actually since no one wanted to sit next to this giant and the window). We sat across the isle from a nice young coupe like us who were on their way to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. The Flight crew was fantastic and one of them, a younger boy, was full of jokes. He made jokes about not forgetting the booze if the plane went down and referred to the older flight attendants as his mom and dad things I have never heard from another airline. They made everyone laugh and the flight went a lot smoother. It felt like less like a funeral then say with…Allegiant or Delta. I only had 2 issues with our plane. The first being it didn’t have WIFI like I thought it was going to have. Apparently a flight was cancelled and we had a different plane than what we were supposed to have. No big deal and I got over it pretty quick….Amazon Prime will still be there when we land. The second was that the bathroom was tiny. However I am 6’4” and 300 lbs so what bathroom isn’t tiny for me?
Southwest is interesting because they operate their flights like you would see on a bus or a train. This was new to me and I wasn’t sure how it all would pan out. We landed at Tampa International and some people got off while some stayed on. That young couple I talked about before stayed on the plane which would take them to New Orleans. What an amazing idea! No dragging your bags to a connection flight and having to find a new seat. You don’t have to run across the airport and no worrying about missing your connection since you are sitting in it already. We will experience this “transfer” ourselves on the way home since we leave Tampa and have 2 stops; 1 in Baltimore and 1 in Louisville before getting back to Grand Rapids. That is a whole lot of landing and taking off with a pregnant girlfriend who is iffy about flying but I think we will be fine. Assuming the prices stay decent and Southwest doesn’t change their 2 free checked bags policy I can’t see any reason why I would bother with another airline at least coming to Florida unless they offered one hell of a deal. Between the cheap fair, free bags and fun flight crew this travel writer was thrilled and so was his Stacey. Now if only Southwest flew out to Oregon….Southwest are you reading this?