My reply to Countess V. Robertson...First, I think this is the first time I have ever had the opportunity to address a Countess, pretty cool. You have asked about some of my favorite cities in the SWA system. Typically our overnights are too short to get "out and about" much, but in RNO and FLL I have had time to get out and get a taste of the local flavor and have enjoyed myself.
TO Kim...Interesting that you ask about the shampoos, if you add in a pen and soap from each overnight and then if they fall on a weekday a USA Today, that is a lot of stuff to carry around...
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I ran across an interesting statistic the other day that I want to share with you. I have mentioned in past posts that I have spent as many as 211 nights in hotel rooms in a single year. Since I am now based in the city where I live, I average about 13 nights a month in someone else's bed (probably should have rephrased that). Anyway, in a recent month, Southwest Airlines purchased an astounding 97,648 hotel rooms for our Flight Crews (Pilots and Flight Attendants).
In some cities we have too many Crew Members for any one hotel to handle. We use hotels close to the airport for Crews on a very short overnight and hotels near shopping or entertainment for those with a longer overnight. In the 64 cities that Southwest serves, we utilize 94 different hotels.
And, in true Southwest fashion (save money whenever you can), the majority of the procurement and coordination for this massive undertaking is handled by volunteers, 17 Southwest Pilots and Flight Attendants to be exact, with assistance from Staff at our corporate office. Just think: one million, one hundred seventy-one thousand, seven hundred and seventy-six (1,171,776) hotel rooms a year...that's a lot of bed pillow chocolates!!!
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As I have written in numerous posts, one of my passions is traveling. I think I have the perfect job. While pursuing my passion, I get to fly a really cool aircraft, work for an awesome Company, and support my family. And while I am enjoying myself, I am part of an organization which provides the Freedom of Fly to millions of our Customers. So, I enjoy many Freedoms while working at Southwest: The Freedom to indulge my passion, the Freedom to support my family at a fun and financially stable Company with incredibly talented Coworkers, and have the satisfaction that I am making a difference in the lives of our Customers by giving them the Freedom "to move about the Country" each and every day. HAPPY 4TH OF JULY, EVERYONE.
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Listen up all of you train buffs (that includes fellow blogger Brian "Candy Corn" Lusk), I had the opportunity to stay at a wonderful hotel that is outfitted especially for you. The Crowne Plaza Hotel at Historic Union Station in Indianapolis, Indiana (IND) has 26 suites that are located within 13 real Pullman sleeper cars. These 1920 era Pullmans were actually brought into the hotel on existing tracks on what is the second floor of the hotel. Walls were built to incorporate the cars within the hotel, where they were cleaned, painted and refurbished to a quality that I feel would make George Mortimer Pullman proud. It's hard to believe that these majestic beauties had been abandoned and left to rust away. Each suite is impressively decorated with antique tables, sitting areas, specifically designed furnishings and, of course, Crowne Plaza's wonderful Sleep Advantage Beds.
The hotel has 273 other guestrooms and suites, but the Pullmans are the star attraction, and since the hotel is situated within an active railroad station, you get the muffled rumble and subtle vibrations of real trains to "enhance the ambiance" of your stay. While walking beside the Pullmans, I even noticed that "train fragrance" of grease and oil which reminded me that these cars are the real deals and not replicas. It was a wonderful moment to take in the beauty of these awesome reminders of past times in our nation's transportation history.
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So I was complaining one morning on the hotel van how the evening before I had tried to press my uniform and found yellow goop all over the iron in my hotel room. One of the Flight Attendants said that someone must have made ironing board quesadillas!!! What is that I asked, and found out that if you pack pre-cooked chicken or beef along with tortillas, cheese and some peppers, fold everything between pieces of aluminum foil and heat it with an iron you have a wonderful snack!!! Amazing, and very innovative!!
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An observation I occasionally hear from Customers as we chat during the boarding process is that as Pilots we don't actually fly the aircraft very much; rather, the autopilot does all of the work. My initial response is "yes and no". I have flown aircraft in which I did the takeoff and at 400 feet above the ground could engage the autopilot, and the airplane was capable of flying several thousand miles, make the approach, land, and slow to taxi speed. All the Crew had to do was verfiy that the information the plane used to make the flight was correct, disconnect the autopilot and autobrakes, and taxi off the runway and to the gate (and, yes, take over if the system failed!!). Southwest's 737 aircraft do not have autoland, but the autopilot is capable of all other phases of flight.
For the most part, Pilots at Southwest use the autopilot as drivers use the cruise control in the family car: to ease our workload during hours and hours behind the wheel, and to keep us refreshed. We actually "hand fly" the autopilot by inputting commands into the autoflight system to tell the aircraft to climb, descend, and cruise at a particular altitude. Certain reduced visibility approaches require the autopilot to be used until ready for landing. The lowest visibility approaches flown at Southwest actually require the Captain to hand fly the aircraft using special guidance systems to descend to within 50 feet of the ground before we have to see the runway and needing only 700 feet of forward visibility. We can even takeoff with as little as 300 feet of visibility (the length of a football field) at certain airports, making it safer to fly that day than it was to drive to the airport.
Sometimes it is better for the Pilot to do the flying than the autopilot. A case in point was during my last flight sequence flying into Kansas City (MCI) and St. Louis (STL). In both cities, the winds were very strong and gusty, over 71 mph just a couple of thousand feet above the ground, and over 40 mph at the surface. The autopilot does not handle these conditions very well, so we get to do all the work.
So the next time you are flying along, taking advantage of Southwest's low fares, enjoying a cold beverage and our award-winning Flight Attendants' gracious hospitality, and wondering who is doing the flying during the "cruising" part of your flight, it is probably the autopilot. But rest assured, there are two highly trained individuals in the first row of seats working just as hard to get you to your destination safely and as comfortably as possible.
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I've written in past blogs about my love for travel. I still find it almost magical that I can wake in New England and then enjoy dinner on the West Coast. A family friend and neighbor is an account executive for a company that manufactures machines that test and repair railroad tracks...get this, his "territory" is all the world except for Asia. Check that geographical area out on a globe sometime!! His wife gives him shopping lists for items in London, Paris, South Africa, and South America! Wow! My son went skiing in Colorado last week. He left his townhouse in Central Texas in the morning and was at the base of Vail Mountain that afternoon. On his return home, he woke up to 14 degree temps in Breckenridge, Colorado, and six inches of fresh snow, had a crepe at a local eatery, and just a few hours later, via Denver (DEN), was riding his Vespa back in Texas in 62 degree weather...that to me is amazing. I am writing this post by the hotel pool in Ontario, California (ONT). In less than eight hours [including stops in Oakland (OAK) and Las Vegas (LAS)], I will be enjoying the music in a jazz club in the Philadelphia (PHL) theater district.
Enough about what I find incredible about the speed of air travel. I'd like to hear some of your magical travel moments. The World's Greatest CEO, our very own Gary Kelly in our inflight magazine Spirit, has urged our Customers to use Southwest's 3,200+ daily flights "to go out and make some memories." Fellow blogger Brian Lusk asked you to tell us about your favorite airports; I'd like to hear about your journeys. Did you wake up single in New Orleans (MSY), and then watch the sunset that evening in Maui (OGG) married to your best friend? Tell us about it! And, as you sit at your keyboard composing your story, I hope the memory brings a smile to your face and a warmth to you heart.
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There are a lot of cool perks that go along with my job. I visit interesting cities, meet wonderful people, fly one of the world's most sophisticated aircraft, and have an incredible view of our beautiful country. I also spend three to four nights a week in hotels getting to do whatever I want for 13-18 hours. I rarely turn on the television in my room, but I do spend a lot of time reading. I very much enjoy reading.
My wife is a librarian in an intermediate school. She serves as the president of the city library board in the town where we live, gives lectures, does workshops at regional and state library and teaching conferences, and she is sought after to assist in the design and opening of new libraries. Because of her connections, she has access to literally millions of books which she can "borrow" for me to read (I don't have a library card). If our local library doesn't have a book that I want, she can find it anywhere in the state and have it brought in. With all of this convenience, not to mention money savings, I still tend to purchase books. I just can't seem to wait; I want them now, even if I won't read them any time soon. This practice kinda unnerves my wife because being a librarian, it is engrained into her psyche that it is better to borrow than buy when it comes to books.
USA Today and Forbes cost me a fortune each year because as I travel, I read their book excerpts and reviews and then decide that I "must have" the book that has been written about. Many of the airports that Southwest serves have wonderful bookstores located in them. Additionally, some of our overnight hotels are located next to malls that have new and used bookstores, so it is easy for me to see something that peaks my interest and buy it while I am out flying. We have even added a library to our home, replete with a rolling ladder to access the numerous volumes of books that we own. Many of our books have been personalized by the author or illustrator. Most of the books I have read contain pages flagged where I have highlighted a quote, phrase or note that I found interesting and want to be able to go back and enjoy at some future date.
I have read that Bill Gates (what a genius he is!!) is a big proponent of electronic books. I'm not sure that would be a medium that I would use. (Sorry, Mr. Gates, but when you finish reading this blog, give me a call, as I would very much enjoy meeting you.) I think that electronic and borrowed library books fall into the same mind-set with me. I can't make notes in them, send them to the author to be autographed, or add them to our library to go back and reread or loan to a friend or relative. Suffice it to say that I think the retail book industry will keep getting part of my paycheck every month for the forseeable future.
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With 63 airports in the Southwest system, I have the opportunity to view some very diverse architecture and decorating ideas as I pass through the various terminals. Some terminal and gate areas seem quite sterile and commercial, while others are very warm, airy, and inviting. During my last trip, I had an overnight in Sacramento, CA (SMF), one of ten cities I flew into in three days. When the Sacramento baggage claim area was designed, something very whimsical was added by a decorator who obviously had a great sense of humor. H iding two of the ceiling support columns are old baggage carts which were used to transfer luggage from the terminal to the aircraft. These baggage carts have been distressed to make them look like they are swelled out as if crammed full of Passengers' luggage, obviously not the way we would do it at SWA!!!. Then piled from the top of the cart, all the way to the ceiling are numerous pieces of luggage in all shapes and sizes. In addition to being quite a conversation starter, it makes it extremely easy to find the baggage claim area in Sacramento.
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With 37 years of aviation experience and closing in on my 20th year in the airline industry, I spend a lot of time "flying the system." As I make my way around our vast route structure, I have the opportunity to interact with numerous Employees both in and outside of the work environment. I have spent as many as 211 nights in hotels in a single year, so I have ridden countless miles in hotel vans. Additionally, I do not live in the city of my base, so I "commute" on our aircraft multiple times each week, riding just like a Customer.
So what, you ask??? So, if you sit and listen to our Employees as they do their jobs, whether it is riding as a passenger or conversing with a Mechanic, Provisioning Agent or someone working on the ramp or maybe in an exchange of thoughts on a hotel van at 5:45 in the morning...if you just listen, an overlying theme comes out: the pride and trust that the Employees of Southwest Airlines have of and for their corporate Leaders. We tend to use words like "brilliant," "genuis," "down to earth," and "approachable." Herb and Colleen are legends in the industry and certainly within our Company, with Gary Kelly having operated quietly for years but rapidly becoming known to the world as the genius that he is.
So what, you ask??? So, if you just sit back and listen, without prompting, over and over you will hear Employees across the SWA system in every job description, saying great things about our corporate Leaders and knowing in their hearts that the leadership at the top truly is looking out for the good of the whole Company. I think that is a good thing. We don't have to put out memos telling us that Gary or Colleen did this or that "for the good of the Company;" we just know that our Leaders live for Southwest 24/7 (heck, I've even seen Gary wearing canyon blue shirts and desert tan slacks; now that's SWA 24/7!).
So, at Southwest Airlines, we as Empoyees go out and do our jobs, "worrying" about taking care of our beloved Customers instead of being concerned about our Leaders at the top (as employees at so many other companies are doing). We have our jobs to do, and our executives have theirs, and everyone at Southwest does what they are supposed to do very well and very efficiently. It is a simple thing, but Southwest is about to celebrate its 35th anniversary because of the simple things we do better than anyone else.
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I was fortunate during the Holidays that I was able to spend several quiet moments with my wife and son just enjoying the time together and reflecting on the year past and what 2007 might hold for the three of us and the world. My son and I travel together frequently, and my wife always asks what we talked about during those hours by ourselves: My typical answer is "just random stuff." During one of our fireside chats last month, the three of us started discussing "random stuff" and came up with some questions to which we are not sure of the answers. Knowing that the Southwest Blog audience consists of extremely intelligent people, I thought I would run these questions by you to see what your thoughts are. So here goes...
Now that Pluto is no longer a planet, how does that affect my horoscope? When was the first Christmas Eve? If I get stupid and put aluminum foil in the microwave, it arcs, and my wife gets mad, but our microwave has a metal rack, so why no arc? On our airplanes the potties are lavatories and we call them "lavs", so why is a boat potty called "the head"? And finally, I see delivery trucks with "FISH" in block letters on the back and sides of the trucks, I have never seen a truck labeled "veal" or "turkey" or "chicken"; what is so special about fish?
I look forward to some great answers. Perhaps you too have some random thoughts that you have always wondered about, feel free to comment, and I'll bet you get a quick response.
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Shelley...Wonderful Blog...You are quite talented, perhaps you should write for an inflight magazine or something!!! I know all of the SWA Employees appreciate the hard work that goes into the Messages...Thanks for all you do!!
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I must say that I really enjoy writing. Since I spend so much time on the road, I am constantly jotting notes to family and friends as well as searching for unusual and interesting news and business articles to forward to others. I agree with our wonderful SWA President, Colleen Barrett, that I would much rather write an acquaintance than send an e-mail. I keep a supply of personal writing paper with me, but more times than not, I rely on the hotels that I stay in to supply my stationery. My wonderful grandmother used to say she traveled vicariously through me because I was constantly sending her notes mailed in hotel envelopes and made sure she received plenty of hotel postcards. My son's mailman must wonder about the mailing lists he occupies because I send him several notes each week wrapped in envelopes found in hotel writing desks.
My own stationery consists of personalized correspondence cards and handcrafted vellum executive size paper and envelopes. Most hotels follow the executive or monarch size of paper and envelopes, but there are still those out there that stick with the 8 1/2" x 11'' stock and #10 envelopes. My favorite hotel writing paper is found at the Four Seasons Resorts, a wonderful linen stock of paper and note cards with a horizontal grooved texture. The Grand Wailea Resort on Maui also provides guests with note cards as well as writing paper and beautiful postcards.
So the next time you are bored in a hotel room, check out the contents of your desk. I know you will sit there in wonder and think to yourself, "Wow, there are people in this world that actually notice this stuff and then take up valuable cybertime to write about it!!!"
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I had the pleasure and rare opportunity to fly a three-day trip over Thanksgiving with fellow blogger Carole Adams. Since Carole and I are based in different Southwest cities and our seniority is quite different, along with the fact that Pilots and Flight Attendants rarely spend more than one day together, a full three-day trip is almost unheard of. Carole is the consumate professional. She is always impeccably dressed, has the greatest personality, and is cheerful and fun to be around 24/7. I am fanatical about ontime performance (especially during the Holidays when so many people depend on Southwest to get them to family and friends). Having Carole as one of our Flight Attendants made the boarding process go very smoothly, and she does a wonderful job of getting Customers on and off the plane quickly and efficiently. During the 14 flights we made those three days, we were only tardy once and were as much as 15 minutes early on one flight.
Our Thanksgiving was spent in Tampa (TPA) after getting up very early in Detroit (DTW) and flying five legs. We arrived in Tampa about 4:00PM and drove to our hotel which is situated on a beautiful cove overlooking Tampa Bay. Southwest has an agreement, as part of our contract with the hotels that we utilize that on Holidays, that the hotel will provide Crew Members with a traditional holiday dinner on our arrival. Since the restaurant at this particular hotel has a seafood theme, I was skeptical as to what "traditional" might mean. We were served an outstanding dinner with salad, roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, yams, veggies, cranberry sauce, sage dressing and pumpkin pie (Carole wouldn't share her pie!!). The wonderful meal and the beautiful view of the sun setting over Tampa Bay made it a picture perfect evening. I would have preferred to have been home with my wife, son, and relatives who were gathered at my house, but I was very thankful that I got to spend the day with members of my Southwest Family, as I am sure there were people around the country that couldn't be with any loved ones on this special day. So to Carole, Donna, Linda and Phil thanks for a great time and a fun filled three-day trip.
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I just got off the treadmill and I'm starving...Time to think about some Southwest cities and eating. Since we last spoke, I have traveled tens of thousands of miles and polled numerous Crew Members to provide you with some "must try" food spots throughout the Southwest route system.
So, if you find yourself in Portland, Oregon (PDX), two wonderful eateries come to mind (OK, one eatery and one drinkery). First stop is at Pizza Schmizza, a Pacific Northwest pie shop that is awesome. Give the Genoa a try, loaded with Genoa salami, mushrooms, pepperoni and Italian sausage. Absolutely delicious!! If you happen to be traveling with a Flight Attendant who wants to eat "lite," the Greek Salad is also first rate. Need a coffee to keep you awake after that meal?? Slide over to Coffee People (another Pacific Northwest company) for a Velvet Hammer!! This wonderful hot coffee beverage is spiced with Mexican chocolate, cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg; my mouth is watering just writing about it.
Since we are in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, we'll make Seattle, Washington (SEA) our next stop. At the airport, give Ivars a try. The fish and chips are crisp and flavorful, a great choice. I always snag a bowl of Ivar's famous chowder to enjoy enroute to my next destination. Speaking of chowder, if you go just off the airport property to the Doubletree Hotel, their Northwest clam and salmon chowder is incredible. The salmon adds a wonderful twist to an age old recipe. Don't forget to grab a world famous, warm Doubletree chocolate chip cookie on the way out!! If you buy a tin of them, you can share with the Flight Attendants when you get to the airplane. Hope this keeps you sated until we talk again...Please keep sending me your suggestions of great eateries in and around airports in the Southwest system.
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So, it's time for me to compose another post and ideas are running through my mind like crazy. Since one of the purposes of this blog is to give insight into Flight Crews' lives, what better to write on than what we talk about most as we cross this great country...food!!!!
Southwest is well known for how fast we "turn" an aircraft (the time between pulling up to the jetway from one flight and leaving the jetway for the next one). For the most part our airplanes are only at the gate 20-25 minutes; so what does this have to do with food? Pilots and Flight Attendants get hungry as the day goes along (we work really, really hard, and there are no vending machines at 35,000 feet); our only chance to grab a bite to eat is to run off and get something between flights. Over the next several postings, I will put forth some of my favorite food spots in and around the airports we serve as well as suggestions by fellow Crew Members. My wife asked if I was going to go in a particular direction with these stories. I answered with, "Of course, they will contain humor, be well-written, and be informative!" She gave me this "don't be an idiot look", and sternly asked if my suggestions would be presented from west to east or south to north? And the answer: nope, I'll just give you the information as it comes to mind. So here goes...
If you are at Chicago Midway Airport (MDW) (three letter airport codes are for fellow blogger Richard Sweet 'cause he loves them so much) a great sandwich can be had at Potbelly's. My personal favorite is the "Wreck" but a close second is the warm Peanut Butter & Jelly. Yep, a warm PB&J, it's incredible. Don't worry if the line is long. The folks at Potbelly's are second only to SWA in efficiency; you will be in and out in minutes. Speaking of IN & OUT (nice segue don't you think?), if you find yourself with some extra time in Los Angeles (LAX), Burbank (BUR), or San Jose (SJC) go just off the airport property for an IN-N-OUT Burger. I wish we had these near my home. While we are on the West Coast (my wife will be pleased that I am flowing in a direction), check out the fish tacos at Rubio's in the food court at San Diego International Airport (SAN), very very tasty and the breakfast burritos are equally as good.
OK, hope this keeps you traveling and satisfied for a while. I have a couple of Weight Watchers sessions and then I'll be back with some additional suggestions. If you know of a sumptuous eating establishment around the Southwest system please post your comment. Until next time...
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Saturday was the first day of fall, and I had the privilage of seeing nature starting to show the changing of the season from a unique vantage point. I made a flight from Baltimore-Washington Airport (BWI) to Manchester, NH (MHT). Our routing took us north to New York City; Central Park is always a fun place in the fall. We continued up the Hudson River with nice views of the cliffs along the water's edge. As we descended into Manchester, our arrival took us over Albany, NY (ALB), southern Vermont and south central New Hampshire. I could see the fall colors of the birches and maples slowly starting to appear, just a branch here and there, but the colors are on their way. While we were on the ground, I stepped out onto the ramp and the cool crisp New England air was wonderfully refreshing.
We departed Manchester enroute to Las Vegas (LAS). Just after we left New Hampshire a layer of clouds blocked our view until we were directly over Des Moines, Iowa, and then it was clear and beautiful for the rest of the flight. We flew out across the plains of Nebraska and then into Colorado. The Rockies had a fresh coating of snow that in the bright light was spectacular. I could see whisps of smoke from camp fires dotted here and there in the mountains. We were treated to birdseye views of Aspen, Telluride and Durango ski resorts with their miles and miles of winding trails. The fall colors were also evident in Colorado as the stands of aspens, and their vibrant gold hues were making their presence known.
As we started our descent into Las Vegas, we crossed between Bryce Canyon National Park and the Grand Canyon. The shadows on the canyon walls and the beautiful red and rust colors were picture postcard perfect. I have to admit this was an awesome and humbling way to spend the first day of Autumn.
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Occasionally, it is necessary for Flight Crews to "deadhead" between Southwest cities. We fly the aircraft into one location and then move to the back of the plane to ride as a passenger to another city where we once again fly the airplane. These deadheads are done for a variety of reasons including the need to reposition a Crew Member for a flight sequence or because we are about to exceed a flight time limitation that is set by the Federal Aviation Administration.
It is not uncommon for a Southwest Employee riding as a passenger to offer to pass out peanuts or snacks (especially on short flights) to help the Flight Attendants complete their cabin service. One day, I was deadheading in my uniform between Dallas and San Antonio to continue my flight sequence when I had the opportunity to "do the peanuts." When I pass out snacks, I like to walk backward, starting at the rear of the aircraft and move forward toward the front of the plane. By walking backward, I am able to face the Customers and thank them individually for choosing to fly SWA as I offer them a snack. On this flight, I had moved just a few rows into my service when I heard a male voice behind me telling me to step aside and let a pro show me how to serve peanuts. Well, the voice belonged to none other than the world's greatest airline Board Chairman, our very own Herb Kelleher!!! So now, I am going to be proceeding up the aisle, providing much needed nourishment to our Customers with Herb! When one serves peanuts with Herb, it is a much slower process than when you do it alone as Herb gets to shake hands with the male Customers and hug and kiss most of the females. (Herb is a lucky guy.)
As Herb and I got to about mid-cabin, a lady looked at me and asked if I shouldn't be in the cockpit. Trying to show my quick wit to the Head Guy at SWA, I told the lady that this was a new cost saving measure Herb was testing where I did the takeoff and landing and let the autopilot fly while I served peanuts. The lady contemplated this for a moment as about a dozen Passengers surrounding us listened to our conversation. The lady suggested that I hurry along then as she didn't want me to be late for the landing. I then noticed Herb leaning toward the Customer and saw that he was about to speak. Sensing that surely Herb was going to utter a compliment or wise word about one of his dedicated and most admiring Pilots, I listened intently. In a voice loud enough so that everyone around could hear, Herb said "Honey, I've seen David's landings and the plane might just do a better job!!" A huge burst of laughter ensued...Score one for Herb!!
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I have to admit it, I just love to travel. It is not uncommon for me to arrive home from five days of flying and ask my wife if she would like to go somewhere for the weekend! When I was young, my uncle traveled the world for a communications company and to receive his postcards from the far reaches of civilization was pretty incredible. I still get a rush from thinking about a recent flight sequence where I awoke in Orlando, lunched in New England and had dinner on the West Coast. The only journey that is more amazing is the one experienced by any of the former astronauts and mission specialists working for Southwest where they had breakfast in Houston or Florida and lunch aboard the space shuttle circling the Earth. Now, that's traveling!
As Pilots we have a wonderful window seat that allows us an unbelievable view of this great world of ours as it passes below. I still can't pinpoint what I like best: is it the travel, meeting new people (I greet upwards of 1,000 Customers a day on our flights), the cities I visit, sites I see, or the different hotels we stay in? The half-day commute I have from my home to my base crosses 5 states; I even find that exciting. Just imagine, one of our West Coast based Flight Attendants commutes from her home in Greece; my fun meter is pegged out just thinking about that opportunity!!!
Hilton Hotels is presenting some new tag lines that I think were written with me in mind. I was on hold yesterday booking my next adventure and heard the following; "Travel should transform you; it should feed your mind and invigorate your body. Travel should be more than A to B. Travel should take you places." I couldn't agree more.
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Companies pay millions of dollars each year for market research. They do customer surveys to find out the likes and dislikes of the public, and they try to spot trends as well as figure out the next "in" product. I have a less expensive suggestion that is probably a lot more accurate and gives "real time" feedback across a broad section of the public: just ask our Flight Attendants what's hot and what's not.
Some of our Flight Attendants work 4-5 days per week flying up to 7 flights per day with as many as 137 Passengers on each flight for an exposure to nearly 4,800 very diverse people. Want to know the most read book? Ask a Flight Attendant; they could have told you how popular The Da Vinci Code was going to be. What is the hot puzzle? Flight Attendants knew it was Sudoku before the rest of us did. What about the latest fashion color or most popular magazine or laptop computer? I know some great people that can answer these questions.
I have spent many evenings having dinner with the Men and Women who are in charge of our cabin safety and service, listening to their thoughts about what they have noticed during their flights. My advice to marketing people and manufacturing gurus...forget the focus groups and instead focus on what our Flight Attendants are observing each and every day. I think you would be amazed at what they could tell you.
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One would expect simplicity from a Company whose business plan was sketched on a beverage napkin, so allow me to let you in on one of the most basic things Southwest does each and every flight that helps us save time and money, which gives the traveling public consistantly low fares. But first, some background information...
Before any aircraft can be allowed to takeoff, a "weight and balance" calculation must be made. Information about the aircraft's empty weight is added together with the weights of the passengers, fuel, cargo and checked baggage along with the location of the baggage and cargo (Is it in the forward cargo compartment or the rear compartment?). At most airlines this information is fed into a massive computer system by numerous individuals from lots of different locations. All of this is then sent electronically to an operations center usually housed at the carrier's main hub where the numbers are "crunched" and then sent via radio to the individual aircraft in the form of text messages or voice data. Pilots use this information to tell them what speeds they are to use for takeoff and to "trim" the aircraft (much like you trim a boat depending on if Beverly and the grandkids are in the front of the boat or sitting in the back); an aircraft is very sensitive to weight and the location of that weight. If the particular airline has a lot of aircraft departing from locations all over the world at about the same time, the computer can be slowed down and the aircraft have to wait their turn to get the information for takeoff. If a last minute change happens, the whole process has to start all over again, and you go to the end of the line.
So how does Southwest do this simpler and more cost effectively? For each of our flights, our point person to gather all of the aforementioned information is the Operations Agent. The "Ops Agent" collects the boarding documents in order to get a passenger count, is given bin slips from the Ramp Agents telling him/her how much weight is loaded and where, and receives a fuel slip to show how many pounds of jet fuel has been loaded on the airplane. (Again, weight is what is important to the safe operation of the flight so the airplane cares that there is 31,000 pounds of fuel aboard, not 4,626 gallons.) Until just a short time ago, the Ops Agent literally took a #2 pencil and filled in all of this information on an 8 1/2 x 13 inch form, added everything together, and gave it to the Pilots. The Pilots take a couple of pieces of information from the load sheet, enter it into our onboard performance computer, and in 4-6 seconds have all the information needed for the flight. So instead of a massive and expensive worldwide computer system, we have an Operations Agent armed with a stack of forms, a couple of sharp #2 pencils, and an unbelievable ability to add big numbers really, really fast. Recently the form and pencils have been replaced by a laser printer, but the old standbys are always within reach just in case of a power outage. So the next time you fly the World's Greatest Airline and you notice we are taxiing past other airplanes parked to the side of the taxiway, it might just be because the other guys are "waiting for their numbers."
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Ok, so you've been blogging all morning and now it's time for lunch and you want something substantial but not heavy...a little ambiance would be nice but you'd rather not pay for the view, I have a suggestion. If you aren't already in the San Diego area then snag one of Southwest Airlines' legendary low fares and get yourself to Lindbergh International Airport. Just a short drive (1/4 mile with complimentary transportation) is the Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina.
Once at the hotel check out the awesome aquarium in the lobby behind the concierge desk and then proceed to the Harbors Edge restaurant. If you want to dine inside grab a seat by the floor to ceiling windows along the west wall, but my personal favorite is to lounge at a table on the outside patio where you can enjoy the sights and sounds of the Lagoon Pool and the beautiful Whale Fountain. Either inside or out, dining will give you an unobstructed view of millions of dollars in power and sailing craft moored at the marina.
So now for the food...The menu is extensive but my personal favorite is the Seafood Cobb Salad...A salad you ask??? I know, I know, you just traveled halfway across the country surviving on screw top merlot and peanuts for a salad!! Give me a moment before you throw me out with the bleu cheese crumbles. This salad has mounds of shrimp and incredible crab in addition to the "regular" cobb offerings. It is beautifully presented and tastes as great as it looks; quite refreshing and filling. The cobb is accompanied by a bountiful bread basket with numerous artisan offerings, yum, yum.
So there you have it, million dollar views, a scrumptious lunch, the fragrance of the sea and all for the price of a salad. Wow, I think I've talked myself into a road trip to San Diego.
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