Background and Ticketing
I bought these tickets as part of a return leg from a wedding in Maryland and a week in sunny Virginia Beach, VA. When I fly back to BOS from the Hampton Road area I have a choice of two airports, Norfolk International Airport (ORF) and Newport News International Airport (PHF). Richmond’s Byrd International Airport (RIC) is also an option but it is an hour and half from VA Beach. Southwest and US Airways Express offer the lowest priced option from ORF and Delta Connection from PHF. Before the merger of Southwest and Airtran there was a direct flight between BOS-PHF on a Boeing 717 which began my love for that aircraft that I blogged about here. I miss that flight as it was direct, no fee for a checked bag, on a 717 and never full. This time I went with Southwest out of ORF connecting in BWI as they had the lowest price at $94 and I could check a bag for free. I rarely ever check a bag on short flights but this time I wanted to throw caution to the wind, it almost can back to bite me. I also would much rather fly on a 737 instead of cramming into a CRJ on US Air and I wanted to continue building my Southwest rapid rewards points.
Check-In at ORF/Boarding Process for Southwest 659
Anybody that has flown on Southwest knows that boarding is done by boarding group and boarding position. It is of the utmost importance to myself that I check in exactly 24 hours before my flight so I can get into Group A. Only amateurs end up in Group B or C. You can now upgrade to position A1-A15 for a small fee, so getting any position under A30 is pretty good. I got A29 and A51, which I was very pleased with. Unfortunately my boarding position ended up meaning very little which I will get into later. I like to print out my boarding passes the night before if I have the chance. Even though you can get them at the self check kiosk it gives me piece of mind to have them on my person before I get to the airport.
It was a bright and sunny departure day in VA Beach but that was to be a mirage of what was to come for my flights. About two hours before departure I was leisurely packing my bag when I received an email stating my flight had been delayed thirty minutes. If I had the Southwest app it would have come straight to my phone. It didn’t stress too much and went to Flightaware to find out why. I tracked flight 659 which was scheduled to leave from Orlando but was showing a 30 min delay. I figured it was for mechanical reasons as I saw no weather in the area. Then I checked the forecasts for BWI and BOS and realized there was strong winds, rain and overcast skies at BWI delaying arrivals. I finished packing and headed to the airport hoping there would be no further delays.
ORF is a very small regional airport that I really love flying out of. It’s easy to get to and is very low stress when picking up or dropping people off unlike JFK or BOS. My flight was the last of the day out of ORF so I expected no lines at security and the terminals to be relatively quiet. I walked up to the Southwest check-in desk and used the self check kiosks to check my bag. I was slightly shocked to see only one agent working and to make matters worse the Old Dominion University golf team was ahead of me each checking a golf bag. She was clearly overwhelmed but I was very impressed with her positive attitude, a quality that has been missing in my last few Southwest adventures. She eventually got over to me, went through the procedures quickly, but friendly and sent me on my way.
The center of the ORF departures hall had been under construction for a few years. I was interested to see what the results were. I was a little let down to see no new retail stores or restaurants had been added. From what I could tell the floor and ceiling had been redone and plants had been added. While the space has a nice open feel with plenty of plant life, I don’t think they utilized the space very effectively.
I really love small airports because there is never any crowds but a completely empty Home Team Sports Grill at 7:30pm is weird. However, the bartender was cool and the beer was cheap so I can’t complain to much.
I had the security line all to myself and waltzed right through. I was greeted with an empty terminal and closed stores. Not much to do at night at ORF but the terminal is very clean and well lit but a little to quite for my taste. I strolled to the gate and counted eighteen people seated. This seemed strange as it was 8:00pm and we were due to board in five minutes. I spoke to the boarding agent and he informed me that there were only 45 people on the flight! No wonder I was able to get group A, everyone had group A. We all lined up and began the cattle call onto the aircraft.
Flight Details for Southwest 659
- Route: Norfolk to Baltimore
- Airline: Southwest 659
- Departure Gate: A5
- Arrival Gate: B12
- Scheduled: 8:05 PM
- Actual Flight time: 9:18 PM
- Boarding time: 8:10 PM
- Scheduled Arrival Time: 9:05 PM
- Actual Arrival Time: 10:02 PM
- Time in flight: 44m
- Aircraft type: Boeing 737-700
- Distance traveled: 235sm
- Class: Economy
- Seat: 17A
- Load factor:28% full
- Average Ticket Cost: $105.00 (I did very well since my entire ticket was $94.00)
Interior/takeoff for Southwest 405
The 737-700 interior was remarkably clean except for 1E and 1F which was soaked from a soda accident. I originally sat in 9A, but when someone sat on the aisle, I moved to take advantage of the empty rows near the back. Rarely do I fly on an aircraft with so many open seats, so one must take advantage of all the open space to stretch out. At this point we were set to lift off around 8:35pm putting me in BWI at 9:35pm with hopefully enough time to catch my connection at 9:55pm. At this point I realized checking my bag was a rookie mistake and there was a possibility it wouldn’t make it to BOS. The Captain heated the mic up and informed us that there was serious weather in BWI area and that the flight would be bumpy resulting in no beverage service. This is always disappointing but on such a short flight I wasn’t to put off. We pushed back and taxied out toward runway 23 and were #1 for takeoff. With the engines running and everyone prepared, I felt the brakes being applied hard just before the hold short line of runway 23. ORF is pretty quite at night, so I expect the pilot to roll right into the takeoff. As the crack of the mic echoed throughout the cabin, I feared the worst.
We all know how this goes, one 30 minutes delay can turn into hours spent on the tarmac. Turns out BWI had a ground stoppage due to wind and low ceilings. Air Traffic Control told the Captain it would be 10-15 minutes before we could take off. Although this delay pissed me off a little, being a student pilot I understand how dangerous weather can be and understand that safety comes first. This delay now put me at BWI at 9:45 giving me 10 minutes to make it to my connection. I have given up on the bag and just want to make the flight now. Fifteen minutes go by and the Captain gets on the mic, rehearses a long-winded apology and informs us we will have another 15-20 minutes before we can takeoff. At this point I am running through my mental Rolodex of who I can stay with in Baltimore and am fully prepared to sleep in the airport as we will get in close to 10:25pm. My only hope is that my connection will also be delayed. After 20 minutes the flight finally takes off and we are on our way. The Captain was right, it was a rough ride with lots of turbulence, a rough approach and a heavy landing. I was happy to be on the ground but not feeling good about my chances.
Luck Was On My Side
After we landed, we taxied right past gate B2 where my connecting plane to BOS was still sitting and I can see ground handlers still loading bags. There is still hope to make my flight! Due to the ground stoppage the departures were also delayed. The Captain welcomes us to Baltimore but regrets to inform us that there is no gate available. OH come on! There are few things more frustrating while traveling than being on the ground but being stuck in the aircraft. We sat on the tarmac for 10 minutes, with my eyes glued to down towards gate B2, waiting to be disappointed when my flight pushes back. We taxi to the gate and even though I am in the back of the plane, I am off in 5 minutes because there was only 45 people on the flight. Once I am clear of the air bridge, I start to run. I don’t like to run in public and running in an airport is always awkward even when necessary. As I’m running, I hear over the loud speakers “will the passengers heading to Boston who just arrived please make your way to gate B2 as we are about to close the door”, I increased my speed. I get to the gate throw my paper ticket at the agent, sprint down the air bridge, through the aircraft door and in an adrenaline rush end up at the back of the plane again. Extremely relieved to make the flight, I am still thinking my bag is a lost cause.
Flight Details for Southwest 514
- Route: Baltimore to Boston
- Airline: Southwest 514
- Departure Gate: B2
- Arrival Gate: E3
- Scheduled: 9:55 PM
- Actual Flight time: 10:53 PM
- Boarding time: Unknown
- Actual Arrival Time: 11:52 PM
- Time in flight: 59m
- Aircraft type: Boeing 737-700
- Distance traveled: 409sm
- Class: Economy
- Seat: 16A
- Load factor: 50% (Complete Guess)
- Average Ticket Cost: $101.49
Again I sat near the back with a bunch of empty rows. The flight was also rough but there would be a drink service. I ordered an adult beverage as the running had taken a lot out of me. Kindly the flight attendant didn’t charge me which I very much appreciate after the last few hours. The rest of the flight was uneventful and we landed close to midnight. I was thinking there was a 25% chance my bag had made it. Luck was on my side as my bag did make it and all was right in the world.
Overall Grade for Southwest 659/514
I going to give an overall grade of A- for both flight adventures. Although both flights were delayed this was due in no part to Southwest. Southwest kept me well-informed with the email and the updates from the captain. I appreciated the flight being held for the last passengers to make their connections. Also, a big plus was the free drink I received and the fact that my bag made it to BOS saved me from a rookie mistake. Flying Southwest is never glamorous but they work hard to get the job done and most of the time do it with a smile on their face.