The Southwest Square Dance

October 2, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

Have you ever flown Southwest airlines?

Let me start by saying that I like Southwest. I like their attitude– their casualness, there friendliness, the service…

But there is one thing I don’t really like: The Southwest Square Dance.

If you’ve ever traveled Southwest you know what I’m talking about. I’m not sure I dig the “general boarding” idea. Yeah, it’s kinda nice to get the competitive juices flowing before a flight (I’m getting an aisle exit row before anyone else!). But really, that’s the last thing I need when traveling. I have discovered that I find some comfort in the “assigned seat”. Sure, it may not be great, but I know it’s mine. I don’t have to fuss, rush, and stand in line.

Speaking of lines– what’s the deal with the “corrals” (Isn’t that what they call them?).

The idea is this: you get a boarding card with an “A”, “B”, “C”, or “D” (I really have no idea how high they go). And then you board in groups– starting with “A”.

The first time I flew Southwest, I had no idea what I was doing. I got to the gate in plenty of time, only to find people waiting in lines. I didn’t know what the lines were for or why people were standing in them– but, as a good American– I lined up too.

Apparantly my confused looks and mumbling was overheard by the guy in front of me who was kind enough to outline the corral system for me. I was in corral “C”, so the “general boarding” idea began to lose some of its luster. But I lined up anyway– muttering under my breath as I shot laser beams with my eyes at the smiling folks in the front of corral “A”.

Then we boarded the aircraft and the second emotionally draining drama unfolded. Not only was I a “C” boarder, but now I had to walk down the aisle of the plane and look for a “seat mate” willing to accept me.

Memories of elementary school recess kickball games flooded my brain as I tried to find someone whose eyes said, “Come, sit next to me. I accept you and wish you to be my seat-mate”. But I never saw that look. Instead, eye contact was kept at a minimum. When I did find a seat (an aisle with an empty middle– hooray!) the tables turned. I was now established— and the poor saps behind me in corral C had to look to me for acceptance and  mercy.

You’d think that I would have learned from my time “in the aisle”. You’d think that my long walk would have softened my heart so that I would encourage someone to find the solace of a seat next to me. But that’s when I discovered the second phase of the Southwest Square dance… How can you appear accepting of another traveller without coming across as a stalker. Really, I tried to look approachable and friendly, I didn’t “settle in” to indicate that anyone wanting the seat next to me would be imposing on my “space”. I didn’t make a big show of buckling my seat belt and setting up a pillow. I was open and willing to share and welcome… But the response of the “aislers” was not the relief and joy I had anticipated. Instead, it was one of trepidation and fear. I could almost hear their thoughts… Why is that guys smiling at me so much?… Who’s the needy guy in 18D?… He’s probably a talker– steer clear.

So people passed me. They looked at the empty seat next to me and thought, I can do better than that and moved on.

This made me angry. What’s wrong with the seat next to me?… What– am I not worthy of your presence on a two hour flight? Who do you think you are, anyway– you’re a corral C person for crying out loud! Beggars can’t be choosers!

So I decided to shut down– physically, emotionally. I buckled up, got out a book, put on a walkman (kids– a “walkman” is a lot like an ipod… It’s just bulkier, less cool, and plays something called “cassette tapes”), crossed my legs, put my bag on the seat next to me, and began humming the song “It’s a Small World”. No eye contact, no smiles.

This continued until a guy literally crawled over me to the open seat. He didn’t ask. He didn’t wait for me to stand. He just climbed over me.

I spent the entire flight cleaning the shoe marks off my khaki trousers and reflecting.

I came to the conclusion that my brother-in-law’s advice about flying Southwest is very good advice indeed. He simply said, “Make sure you get in corral A. Find a seat. And make yourself appear as large as possible. If necessary (or possible) create some strange smells.”

Words to live by.

Enjoy your flight.

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