Flight Review – SWA – SMF-SLC-PHX (April 2015)

View of the south rim of Lake Tahoe from Southwest Flight 999 at 32,000 ft

Trip Recap Details:

  • Date: April 6th 2015
  • Origin: Salt Lake City (SLC)
  • Destination: Sacramento (SMF) via Phoenix (PHX)
  • Airline: Southwest Airlines (WN)
  • Flights: WN470, WN999

Flight Review:

Usually when you book a one-way flight, you’re leaving and never coming back.  At least, that’s the mental image that has been engrained into our heads thanks to popular media.  In today’s case, I was on a one-way flight home.

Spring Break took me on a road-trip across the states of California, Nevada, Utah and Idaho.  Wanting to spend Easter with my grandmother, I stayed a little longer than I usually would have, and opted to fly home on Monday morning so as to maximize the available time with the 80-something saint of a woman while still getting back to work on time.  This plan was hatched just a few short days before departure so after turning to places like Kayak, and Hipmunk, I decided to give Southwest Airlines a shot at my money.  They had a cheap fare out of SLC on Monday morning routing through PHX to get to SMF, at half the cost of any of the mainline carriers, so I bought the fare.

My flight was scheduled to depart at 6:00am, so like any self-respecting and seasoned traveler, I showed up a little over an hour early.  The lines at the Southwest desk to check bags weren’t that bad, but looking down the hallway I could see quite a crowd milling around in front of security.  Was I scared about missing my flight?  Not a bit!  Last October I ponied up the $100 for Global Entry, the big brother to the $80 TSA Pre Check .  Both are government programs that tax frequent travelers who desire to regain some dignity at the airport.  All kidding aside, Global Entry has quite a number of perks, such as:

  • No processing lines
  • No paperwork
  • Access to expedited entry benefits in other countries
  • Reduced wait times
  • TSA Precheck ✓ Eligibility

That last one is bolded because it makes the most difference for domestic travelers.

 Armed with that special little green check on my boarding pass, I skipped the hour-long wait and went right to the TSA Pre line.  Remember how earlier we talked about regaining some dignity?  Here’s why it makes sense to pay the “tax.”

TSA Pre✓® Experience:

  • Quicker transit through airport security screening
  • Faster moving lines
  • Improved travel experience
No Removal of:

  • Belt
  • Shoes
  • Light outerwear/jacket
  • 3-1-1 compliant bag and laptop from carry-on

No more stripping down as fast as you can whilst stuffing your carry-on.  No more regretting not grabbing another bin.  No more holding up your pants because your belt is being checked for terrorist qualities and no more awkward positions in the rotating tube of death. You drop your stuff on the x-ray belt, and you walk through a standard metal detector.   Simple as that! Having traversed the curb to gate journey in less than 20min, I sat down at gate B17 and waited patiently for the other passengers, or “pax” as we call them in the industry, to arrive.  You had your standard businessmen and businesswomen in their dress clothes on their way to an important meeting.  There were the “business casual” folks, myself included, in jeans and a dress shirt.  Then you had the people who simply rolled out of bed. Honestly people, you’re in public.  That subject is content for a whole article of its own.  Stay tuned!

IMG_4557.JPGSouthwest’s boarding system is a little odd, and if you aren’t familiar with it, the experience can be a bit frustrating.  There are no assigned seats.  Your boarding position is instead determined by a whole slew of factors, chief among them what time you checked in to print your boarding pass.  This window opens up 24h before the scheduled departure time and like a genius I completely forgot to check in until 2pm Sunday afternoon.  My error cost me a spot amongst the coveted “A” group, and I was stuck with B38.  Thankfully it’s not the death, *cough* I mean center-seat sentence that a “C” group pass carries, but B38 certainly limited my options.

Southwest Boarding Group System:

  1. Group A 1-30, 31-60
  2. Family Boarding
  3. Group B 1-30, 31-60
  4. Group C 1-30, 31-60


The first flight was full.  EXTREMELY full.  Thankfully I snagged one of the few remaining isle seats and ended up with a young kid in the center seat next to me.  After doing the “I think you have my seat belt” dance, I prepared myself for my runway routine.  What’s that?  You’ve never heard of a runway routine?  Well, let me introduce you to mine.  It’s very simple and has one step.  Turn on Lindsey Stirling’s “Beyond the Veil,”  I’ll talk more in another post about why that particular song was selected.

The flight to PHX was uneventful: the little kid next to me kept making a few odd noises, a baby cried, and some guy a few rows up was gassy as I’ll get out.  I kept wanting to go up to him and ask “Sir, you do realize that there are 200+ other people breathing re-circulated air in this aluminum tube, RIGHT?  Put a plug in it!”  Some honey roasted peanuts and a glass of apple juice later and I had forgotten about my flatulent planemate.

As we reached cruising altitude, I snuck a peek past my two row companions out the window to see the sun begin to peak it’s head above the horizon.  The photographer in me wanted the shot, so I asked the gal over in 15A to snap one for me and she did.   After a thrilling 1h50min flight, we arrived in Phoenix taking an approach from the west.


The Phoenix Sky Harbor airport is quite impressive, and their new(ish) terminal D is quite the sight.  I’ve only been to PHX twice, once last summer and again this past December.  Whereas Terminal C where we arrived was packed with PAX, all was quiet in Terminal D where I would soon catch my flight to Sacramento.  I snagged a seat in front of the massive window that offers views of runway 7L/25R and 7R/25L and watched aircraft take off for a good 45min.  Nothing like decent plane spotting time to help pass a layover.  It’s about now that I began to get extremely tired and realized I’d already been up for nearly eight hours.



Finally the time came to begin boarding and I looked down at my boarding pass on my phone.  C9.  Yep, doomed to a middle seat for this flight.  Worse yet, we were slated to have a full PAX load just like the SLC-PHX leg.  Got on the plane, wandered back a few rows and finally settled in between two other men on the right hand side of the plane (left of the isle).  What happens when you have three broad-shouldered men side by side?  The guy in the middle (pssst – that’s me) ends up getting scrunched for the first 20min until someone finally decides to adjust.  With a few jokes from the cabin crew over the PA and Lindsey Stirling in my ears once again, we headed for the runway.  I think the pilot was having a little fun because he rotated much earlier than other 737 flights I’ve been on and we were into the air well before we reached the midpoint on the runway.  Despite the on-board WiFi, and free streaming TV, I had difficulty watching re-runs of Dirty Jobs.  The stream kept crashing every few minutes.  Not sure if that was because of total usage on the plane, or simply a bad satellite connection.  In either case, it wasn’t working as well as I had hoped.

As we came across the California border somewhere south of Lake Tahoe, the pilot keyed his mic and announced that we could catch a beautiful view of the Lake out the right side of the plane.  Again, the photographer in me had to take advantage of the opportunity, so I took the shot you see at the top of this article.  Twenty minutes and one bumpy landing later, we were back on the ground at my beloved home airport, SMF.

Now, if you’ve never been to Terminal B at SMF, they have a people mover tram between the main building that houses baggage claim, and the terminal itself.  The shortness of the track is almost a joke.  As I was waiting for the tram to arrive, I went ahead and posted the famed cover pic to Twitter, mentioned Southwest in the tweet and that was that.  Little did I know that the social media folks at SWA would hit the little button that says “retweet” and so by the time I got to luggage my phone was blowing up with favorites, replies and retweets

Just like that, my voyage had come to an end, I was back at home and had to be at my desk within the hour.  Don’t ask me why I work with such tight timelines on my trips.  I suppose I’m just so used to doing so that it doesn’t phase me any longer.  The countdown begins to my next (planned) adventure, on May 14th.  Where will I go next?


Christopher is a bonafide pizza snob, and loves spontaneous adventures to wherever the skies deem fit.

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