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Trish Kinney Headshot

US Airways vs Southwest Airlines: A Clear Winner

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It was a stormy day in the Phoenix metropolitan area and it had already been raining for a while. The city was bracing for high winds and more rain, torrential at times, with a tornado watch in place. Wouldn't you know that it also happened to be the day my husband and I were traveling to Las Vegas for a quick getaway to see a show and enjoy what has become a favorite annual ritual. We kept a close eye on the weather throughout the morning and checked in on the airport sites for reports of delays or closures. We finally decided to head to Sky Harbor and make a decision then.

When we arrived, we passed the new Southwest terminal and saw on the board that nearly all of their flights had been cancelled. Assuming the same would be true of our US Airways flight, we were surprised to see that it was showing on time. I admit it was unnerving to know that one airline was willing to take off to the same destination at the same time and the other wasn't. But we went through security and proceeded to the gate anyway.

The plane was already there and right on time, they made the first boarding announcement. My husband, who was trying to be a trooper and not a party pooper, has a real fear, maybe even in the category of terror, that they are going to put him on a plane and then not take off for some reason, leaving him trapped on the tarmac, his worst nightmare. He is Dutch, stoic, and from Iowa, not exactly the hotbed of technology. We surprised him with a Blackberry for Christmas and he had grudgingly been learning to use it. He pulled it out and said "how do you get to the internet on this thing?" I showed him how to click on the globe icon and he painstakingly pecked in a Google search, his big fingers attached to his 6'4" frame struggling to limit their strokes to a single key at a time. Then quietly he approached the gentleman from the airline who was boarding the first group of passengers. I saw him show the man his Blackberry and engage in a brief conversation. The man then stopped the boarding process, asked the passengers for their patience and headed down the jetway, locking the big metal door behind him. After a few minutes, he returned, got on the mike and announced that the Las Vegas airport was experiencing delays in landing planes and that our flight would take off an hour late. If, however, Vegas changed their status, we may leave earlier so we should stay around the gate area. It was my husband and his brand new Blackberry who had informed US Airways of the delay in Vegas, causing boarding to come to a halt. With the combination of Southwest canceling their flights and US Airways apparently neglecting to check with the destination airport for weather status, our confidence was waning in a big hurry.

In the meantime, our grown sons each called to ask if we were going to get out. When I told them the nearly unbelievable story of their dad stirring it up with US Airways, one of them said "hey, look at Dad using his Blackberry" and the other said "I have never been more proud of a man in my life!"

Then the announcer came back to say that when the boarding resumed, the crew had already informed him that there would be no service during the one hour flight due to expected turbulence.

A few minutes later, he got back on the mike to tell us that he was certain we were probably aware that many of the other airlines had already canceled their flights and there was always the possibility that the airport would close followed by a big shrug of his shoulders and no definitive conclusion. It seemed that US Airways just couldn't make up their mind and was kinda sorta leaving the decision to us. We turned around and walked away.

Out of curiosity, we tracked the flight well into the evening. It left the gate two hours late and another two hours later was still in "delay" status and not in the air. It finally arrived in Vegas six hours late as we sat in front of a roaring fire at home listening to the rain fall as my husband declared for the first time ever that he could see how that Blackberry could come in handy in certain situations.

As for me, I think I will book my next flight using accumulated Dividend Miles and then start flying Southwest Airlines. I really respect their decision to cancel those flights and besides, you gotta love those cool ads with the ground crew rapping about bags flying free. US Airways could learn a thing or two about a lot of things from their closest competitor.