TSA and SWA (Southwest Airlines)
Flying Southwest Airlines
Take Me Out to the Airrrrr-port
At Philadelphia International Airport (PHL for you code freaks) – I am leaving for California on a Thursday afternoon to visit my brother and his family.
I am traveling on Southwest Airlines – the airline with a bubbly red heart in its logo and a lot of casual friendliness in its attitude. (Plus my bag and its “friend-bag” fly free.) I use curbside bag check-in and while doing so, I detect a young Mennonite woman in my line. The tip-off is her prayer cap and a calf-length, modest dress, very familiar garb around central Pennsylvania. ??? Are Mennonites allowed to ride airplanes???
I’m sorry that I hold the ridiculous knee-jerk reaction betraying my attitude that Amish people and Mennonites do not travel far from home. This reveals my ignorance. While watching the movie Witness decades ago, I felt the same shock when Amish characters took a train from Philly to Baltimore. Silly me.
Inside, I am happily surprised that the TSA security check-in lines are divided into three categories: “expert” traveler, “casual” traveler, and families with young children. The travelers are given the privilege and awesome responsibility of self-identifying into which category we belong. Experts are burdened with utter familiarity with TSA check-in. I don’t fly every week or every month, but I do remember procedures from the last trips, so I give expert a go.
While shuffling along in line with my fellow “experts,” some complain about how slow the line moves. I don’t think it is so unreasonable. My galfriend Fiona is British and they have lived with anti-terrorism measures much longer than we United State-ians. Keep me safe, dudes; that’s all I ask. Oh, and also that my luggage arrives at the same airport I do.
I get closer to the stack of gray plastic (cat litter?) bins for carrying small personal items through the X-ray machine. Being an “expert” flyer, I loosen the laces of my sneaks BEFORE I get to the stack, because I want to be a fast American traveler. Thus, when I reach the metal, clackety, conveyor belt area, I actually kick each loose sneaker up into a perfect swan dive into my gray bin. This garners much praise, ooh-ing and ahh-ing from my fellow expert travelers. (Beginner’s luck, really.)
Security Level Red?
When one has a choice for which line to take at the grocery store or which X-ray machine line at the airport, there is no point agonizing over the decision. Everyone gets where she needs to go in the end. Nonetheless, I see that “our” X-ray machine TSA workers scrutinize many pieces of baggage a second time, compared to the operation 20 feet to my right. Perhaps my officials are more particular or more conscientious about fulfilling their job? If so, that’s a good thing. Or, if their slowness is due to the USA being on a RED-blazing-hotter-than-Hades Homeland Security Alert this afternoon, ….I don’t wanna know.
After my wristwatch and I make it through the whole body metal detector, I collect my stuff and re-apply my shoes to my feet. The benches especially dedicated for shoe to foot reunion are close enough to the X-ray machines for me to hear an extremely pleasant-faced TSA worker call out, ”Don’t throw the bins!” Ummmm, what moron would want to abuse TSA equipment in front of the security workers' faces? We all furiously study our feet so as to avoid eye contact with this otherwise happy elf.
Finally, I start walking to my terminal and gate. As I do, I pass another happy-faced TSA worker with the world’s pointiest-snouted, snarliest-toothed German Shepherd straining mightily at his security leash. I guess this worker has no worries with that sort of protection. Incongruously, this gentleman dangles a gay black-and-white striped chic shopping bag in his non-dog-handling hand. Maybe he did a smidge of shopping over his break? Whatever, he is certainly a cheery chap carrying out his duties now.
Southwest Airlines' Attendants Have the BEST Jokes
From many flights both long ago and more recently, I know that Southwest Airlines encourages its flight attendants to be entertaining, as in stand-up comedy or silliness. This first leg of my trip is the quintessential Southwest treatment. Alex is our main man on Flight #2273. I am sorry that I do not know correct terminology for “main steward,” “flight attendant leader,” or whatever his position truly is called.
I cannot do Alex justice, and that may be just as well, for who wants his entire routine to be written down for others to filch? However, he gets things off right by greeting each passenger with “Happy Thursday!” I like originality. As he recites every single word required in the copious safety instructions, he adds a little humor, such as “Fasten your seat belt and keep it low on your hips like where the Captain wears his Speedos.” And, he encourages us to study the safety exit card in our seat pocket because it has cartoons. Alex also tells us that “the flight attendants will now walk by to show us their armpits” (in reality, checking to insure that all overhead compartments are latched closed.)
During the "Oxygen masks will automatically fall from the ceiling" speech, Alex credits Wal-Mart for donating orange fruit cup servings for everyone. (Part of that equipment indeed looks very similar to a single-serving container of fruit cup.) The passengers actually applaud TWICE during Alex’s introductory patter! I have never experienced this. Another flight attendant takes the public address system to “reveal” that Alex is not a member of the crew; that they found him at an open mike night at a bar; and he’s been riding around with them ever since. (Just more joking.) He finishes his opener by singing a song – this is another Southwest tradition: rewriting lyrics to a known tune – so, he does “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” And we certainly were.
Totally Different Travel Story
The Return Trip
My wonderful visit with my fam was way too short and it was time to fly home ffrom Oakland, California (OAK). While winding along this security check-in line, I was treated to a sign declaring "Today we are using enhanced security." "Enhanced?" What does that mean? Do I want to know? Probably not. And, was the sign really posted that day or is it several years old? Later in the line, I pass a different sign warning passengers that "travel to some parts of the world may expose you to swine flu." I hope that doesn't include central Pennsylvania.
That’s all the good stuff. This leg of my travels were ordinary vanilla. However, the lesson I learned is “Be good to the TSA and consider flying SWA.”
[ P.S. - I am not receiving any compensation or other goodies for expressing this positive review of a commercial airline.]
Photo and text copyright 2011 Maren E. Morgan.