A Happy Unbirthday on Southwest

On a recent flight home from a flyfishing trip in the Rocky Mountains, Jim DuFresne fell in love with Southwest Airlines and in this Trail Talk blog our main blogger tells us why.

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By Jim DuFresne

I flew out to Denver last week and then spent my birthday with my son and daughter-in-law before heading into the Rockies for outdoor adventure and fly fishing. They gave me some wonderful gifts; a t-shirt from their backpacking trip this year to New Zealand, a collection of flies designed to fool those finicky Colorado trout and a “Complimentary Drink” coupon for Southwest Airlines for my flight home. My son travels a lot for his job so I suspect, living in Denver, he has a shoebox full of those coupons.

Jim DuFresne

Jim DuFresne

I flew home on Sunday and made Michael drop me off at the airport more than two hours in advance. The last time I departed from the Denver Airport it was a horrible experience. I arrived almost an hour and half before the departure time but security was such a nightmare I almost missed my flight.

Not having flown Southwest all that much, I paid an extra $12 this time for “Early Bird Check-in.” When I arrived at the airport Sunday morning lines were non-existent. I printed out my boarding pass and checked in my luggage in less than 10 minutes. When I arrived at security a TSA agent told me I had “TSA Pre-Approved” check-in. I was through it in five minutes or less.

I headed towards my gate but – with over an hour to kill – stopped at the food court in the terminal to enjoy a breakfast burrito (a staple in Denver) and a large coffee while reading the Sunday newspaper on the airport’s free Wi-Fi. I was so unrushed and relaxed that suddenly I realized my flight was about to board. I hustled to Gate C-26 where to my horror the A group had already boarded. I was positioned at A 40. I jumped in right before the B group and managed to grab that aisle seat on the emergency exit row where there are only two seats.

Then I sat and watched passengers walk past me, wondering who my seat buddy was going to be for the next three hours. I spotted him was as soon as he entered the plane. He was 300-plus pounds but only 5-foot-8 and looked like a human bowling ball with a fuzzy tennis ball for a head. He was so large he walked down the aisle at an angle. Meanwhile I kept up this mantra because let’s face it, I’m not so petite myself: Please Don’t Sit HerePlease Don’t Sit HerePlease Don’t Sit Here

The moment of truth came when he stopped, eyed that seat and then said, while tossing his carry-on into the luggage rack overhead, “excuse me.” We never battled over the arm rest because after he sat down, I never saw it again.

Southwest3That’s when I decided I was going to cash-in that coupon. By the time the stewardess arrived for our refreshment order it was after 11 a.m. in Denver, past noon in Chicago and 1:10 p.m. in Detroit. Or as Jimmy Buffet once sang in a song: go ahead and have a drink, it’s five o’clock somewhere.

Still, I felt sheepish and a little self-conscious so I held up the coupon and said “my son gave this to me for my birthday and said I had to use it today.” Which was all true, I just neglected to tell her my actual birthday was a week ago.

The stewardess suddenly smiled and told me to put that coupon back in my wallet, this birthday drink was on Southwest. I should have been tip off when she asked me my name and wrote it down but when she returned with my coffee, bloody Mary, a tiny bag of peanuts and a small bag of cheese nips, well, it was the closest I’ll ever come to having a free Sunday brunch on an airline.

The rest of the flight was uneventful which meant there was no turbulence, my row buddy turned out to be a really nice guy (though I’ve had less physical contact with some of my ex-girlfriends than I did in a three-hour flight with him) and the babies around us were either happy or sleeping.

When the plane touched down in Detroit Metro, the stewardess welcomed us to Detroit, gave us the local time, the gate we were arriving at and then said “today is the birthday of Jim in 11C, let’s all sing him Happy Birthday!”

To my shock, everybody in front of me and around me turned around, looked at me and began singing. I could have died.  Even when we were disembarking, people were wishing me a happy birthday and the guy across the aisle gave me his unopened bag of peanuts.

I was so embarrassed I ran off that flight, ducked into the first restroom I came to and hid in stall number eight until I was pretty sure everybody else was already at the luggage carousal.

But by the time I drove home I had come to two conclusions. I chalked up the free coupon and the singing as one of the best Unbirthdays (remember Alice in Wonderland?) I ever had. Why feel guilty about it?

That and Southwest is the only way to fly.

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