Simon Calder: Young and in love? Fly the airline that lives at Love Field

The man who pays his way

Jennifer and Ryan struck lucky on the flightpath to Las Vegas. Not only were they soon to be wed, they also flew on Southwest. This is a budget airline that loves its passengers, especially when they are in love, and whose HQ is located at Love Field, Dallas.

Click HERE to read "48 Hours in ... Houston", the first time we have covered the largest city in Texas. I researched the feature (and made a film, at independent.co.uk/DiscoverAmerica) as part of a longer tour of the US during which I took three domestic flights – and rediscovered the joy that American flying can be.

Southwest Flight 1892 from New Orleans to Las Vega$ (as the Nevada city likes to be known on destination screens) was my favourite. Here's a phrase you don't often read: the fun started with the safety briefing. The lead flight attendant, also named Jennifer, had a way of attracting attention without a trill on that little whistle attached to the life jacket.

"For your evacuating convenience," she began, "we have six emergency exits." After the words "place the life jacket over your head", and before "tie it securely with a double bow" she added the handy personal grooming advice: "Fix your hair." And, should the oxygen masks drop: "If you're travelling with young children, or anyone too cool to watch a safety demonstration, fit your own mask before helping them."

Once in flight, the cabin crew discovered that the couple in Row 3 were off to get married. As the plane descended towards the desert city, the flight attendant reported: "We've been plying Ryan and Jennifer with alcohol to make those nuptials seem like a good idea." She added a sentence that, again, you rarely encounter in the conventional world of aviation: "And we've made them some hats in the galley."

Full marks for improvisation. Considering the headwear had been fashioned from bags of peanuts held in place by red plastic cocktail sticks (with a heart-shaped twist at the end), they were sturdy enough coronets. "You have to wear them at least as far as baggage reclaim," Jennifer instructed as she crowned the couple and the rest of us passengers cheered.

Cleaning up in Vegas

When the wheels touched down, a bonus briefing was broadcast: "Welcome to Sin City. Please do not wager any more than you can afford to lose." And, as the aircraft reached the gate, there was none of the dull old insistence about remaining strapped in until the seat-belt light went out. Instead: "Wait for it", followed immediately by the familiar ding, and the order "OK – get out!".

The same plane was continuing on to San Francisco, along with the crew and some of the passengers. The California-bound people were told: "Don't move a muscle until the Las Vegas people have deplaned. Then you are free to stretch your legs, or help us clean the plane." Perhaps only the world's safest carrier, boasting 15 million flights and around 1.8 billion passengers carried without a single fatal accident, can make light of the deadly serious business of running an airline.

Making connections

The journey from Boston to Houston was a different experience. Rather than stump up $500 (£300) for a non-stop flight between Massachusetts and Texas, I paid just one-third as much for a connecting trip on AirTran Airways. It was formerly known as ValuJet and is soon to be assimilated into the ever-growing Southwest. Granted, checking in a bag costs an extra $20 (£12), but with a swift connection at Atlanta the overall journey was scheduled to take only 90 minutes longer than the non-stop. That, at least, was the plan. But storms over the eastern seaboard meant the flight was routed a long way west before turning south. Anyone with a laptop can watch the flight's progress online for free.

How good is the "skymap" system? Well, it constantly updates the arrival time in Atlanta, and shows the departure gates for connecting flights. Then it goes one better: you can find out not just what time you should arrive at your final destination, but also the location where you will rejoin your luggage. In my case, Houston Hobby airport, reclaim belt 3. But would it make it?

We arrived in Atlanta just 35 minutes before the last flight of the night to Houston was due to leave. Now, that corresponds to the official minimum connecting time at a small airport such as Warsaw or Vienna. Atlanta happens to be the busiest airport on the planet, with far more planes and passengers than Heathrow. The arrival gate was on a separate pier from where Flight 383 was preparing to depart for Houston.

I sprinted to the gate with a few minutes to spare. But "self-loading cargo", as passengers are known in the business, can usually make connections faster than their possessions, which need to steer a course through the world's most complex baggage system.

This AirTran flight was refreshing: the lady in an Aeropostale-branded sweatshirt, who I took to be a fellow passenger, turned out to be a stewardess. But I wasn't especially looking forward to the confirmation that my bag was not on that midnight plane from Georgia, and all the kerfuffle that would ensue.

Yet, no sooner had I walked wearily to the baggage area than the bags from Flight 383 started to appear. All of them, on reclaim belt 3.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

    £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

    Recruitment Genius: Developer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Estates Contracts & Leases Manager

    £30000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Estates Team of this group ...

    Guru Careers: Brand Manager / Marketing Campaign Manager

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Brand Manager / Marketing Campaign Manager is req...

    Day In a Page

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future