2013.08.28 I’m leaving on a jet plane...with cookies


I like to fly Southwest when I travel by air, but they sure do have an archaic seating system. Instead of assigned seats, you line up in an order assigned when you checked in and printed on your boarding pass. 

Passengers assigned A1-30 line up and board first, then A31-60. Then the B groups line up, followed by the C passengers. There are pillars spaced far enough apart in increments of five. You locate the pillar that your number falls within once your letter and number range are printed on the screen at the head of the line. 

Passengers sort themselves out in numerical order by surreptitiously looking at each others’ boarding passes or asking, “What number are you?” 

Some people act like it’s no big deal if they aren’t in their proper place. 

“Oh, it doesn’t really matter,” they’ll say. 

I think these are the people who belong in line behind me. Yes, it does matter, especially if you’re like me and don’t like to sit in the back of the plane.

I’m not overly concerned about landing a plumb assignment in line, but it’s a competitive thing; I do like to pull a low number. You can’t check in more than 24 hours before your scheduled departure time, so I set up my Google calendar to send me an e-mail reminder and sometimes I even remember to set the alarm on my phone. I don’t know why I have this fixation to get an A group and low position number because my preference is always to snare a middle seat up front. 

I love middle seats on Southwest planes. They have the most leg room and thus the most under-seat room for over-loaded purple backpacks like mine. So, when I end up with a B or a C assignment, I’m really not all that disturbed. Southwest planes are almost always full flights, so since I know I’m apt to end up in a middle seat anyway, I just choose the first empty one I come to.

This can be awkward when you get a relatively plumb assignment like A46. Recently I chose a seat in a row that was only occupied by one gentleman in the aisle seat. I’ll admit it looked a little strange when I sat in the middle seat, leaving the window one open. I felt obliged to explain that I would move over if no one sat in the window seat, but he didn’t mind.

Try as I might, I rarely get in the A boarding group. I think there must be another system that I’m not privy to. I think it involves having a migraine headache or breaking your arm.

That’s how a woman I traveled with to the airport got to board early. She and I had met at the Muslim Journeys Orientation Workshop in Denver and while waiting in the hotel lobby for our shuttle bus, discovered we were on the same Southwest flight.

She hadn’t printed her boarding pass so we ended up in different lines to check our luggage (Southwest lets you check two bags for free). My line was relatively short and hers was miles long. When we finally saw each other again at the gate (I had wandered the airport, eaten lunch, bought cookies), she was standing in front of the A group.

“How did you manage that?” I asked in surprise.

“I told the ticket agent I had a migraine and he gave me this blue sleeve for my boarding pass,” she said.

She actually did have a migraine and while I soaked up ideas at the Denver Public Library, she had had a very miserable morning.

When I boarded far back in the B group, I didn’t notice her seated in the middle seat of the front row, right in front of me.

That didn’t last long. She was asked to give up her seat to the woman with the broken arm and so ended up across the aisle and back a row in a window seat.

Then the middle seat wasn’t working out for the woman with the broken arm so the college girl in the aisle seat next to me was asked to switch.

When Broken Arm sat down next to me she was in obvious pain and doing her best to hold it together and not cry.

“Would you like a cookie?” I asked, trying to make her feel better.

“Yes!” she said gratefully and laughed. And everyone around us joined in.

“I’m a grandma,” I explained sheepishly. 

This prompted the lady in the window seat next to me to whip out her phone and show photos of her granddaughter.

“She was 2 pounds, 1 ounce when she was born at 27 weeks gestation,” she said.

“Ohmygosh!” I exclaimed. “My grandson was 2 pounds, 2 ounces at 26 weeks!”

And we were off, recounting tales from the NICU and the wonderful progress our grandbabies were making.

It really doesn’t matter where you sit on Southwest. They’re all nice people.