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TPG Contributor Nick Ellis recently celebrated his birthday in Sin City, flying aboard Southwest Airlines’ Boeing 737-800 on a new route between Newark (EWR) and Las Vegas (LAS). Here’s his review. (All photos are by the author).
Just after a trip to Las Vegas with some of my co-workers, I returned to Sin City to celebrate my birthday with family and friends. Remembering that Southwest Airlines had recently launched a nonstop route between Newark (EWR) and Las Vegas (LAS), and the fact that I hadn’t flown the airline in several years, I decided to give this new route a try.
I used my Chase Sapphire Preferred card — which lets you earn 2x points on travel and dining at restaurants and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide — and paid $575 for the round-trip ticket, which yielded me a total of 1,150 Ultimate Rewards points. If I had paid with a Citi Prestige or Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express , I would have earned 3 points per dollar spent on my travel purchase.
I also earned 3,052 Rapid Rewards points for my round-trip flight, which count toward earning the highly coveted Companion Pass from Southwest.
Arrival and Check-In
Southwest’s gates at Newark (EWR) are located in Terminal A. I took an Uber ride from TPG Headquarters in Manhattan and was greeted with a fairly deserted departures area.
Southwest occupies just a few check-in desks in Terminal A and when I arrived, there thankfully weren’t that many people waiting in line. The carrier offers passengers two free checked bags, so I checked mine and then made my way to security.
Newark’s Terminal A dates back to the 1970s, and it shows — the security checkpoint is crammed into a tiny hallway which doesn’t allow for many people to be screened at one time. Luckily, it wasn’t too crowded when I went through security, but I can see how wait times would be very long during busier periods.
If you don’t know by now, Southwest doesn’t assign seats on its flights. That means the sooner you board the aircraft, the more choices you’ll have to find the perfect seat. Each passenger is assigned a boarding position based on your check-in time for groups A, B or C with a number between 1 and 60.
Since I forgot to check in exactly 24 hours before my flight, I was assigned a position in the middle of Group B, so I didn’t have a ton of choices when it was time to choose my seat. As a result, I ended up sitting in the very last row.
The good news is there are plenty of ways to avoid the situation I managed to get myself into. Flyers who have A-List status with the airline are entitled to priority boarding on every flight. You can also book a Business Select fare, which comes bundled with a guaranteed A1 – A15 boarding position. Those who don’t often fly on Southwest can purchase EarlyBird Check-In for an additional $15 per person (recently increased from $12) to get a position reserved before general boarding begins.
This particular 737 had 143 standard seats arranged in a 3-3 layout. Each seat measured 17-inches wide and had 31-inches of pitch. Compared to JetBlue’s more generous seat width and pitch, I felt noticeably more cramped on this flight.
The seats were a slimline design, featuring fixed headrests that actually were a perfect height for me, though I imagine that will not be the case for everybody.
My seat was in the very last row of the plane, which wasn’t a huge deal on Southwest because every seat is exactly the same, but I definitely prefer the ability to choose your own seat before boarding the aircraft.
This aircraft was not equipped with seatback IFE, but Southwest did provide free entertainment for those who brought their own devices. I was able to browse through several channels of live TV, ranging from national news to HGTV. There were also movies available to purchase for 5 bucks a pop.
I spent the majority of my flight watching different TV shows as the movie selection didn’t interest me much. All the channels worked well, and the interface was intuitive and easy to use. I would have preferred to have an IFE system mounted in the seat-back in front of me though — resting my laptop on the tray table made an already cramped seat feel even more so.
I purchased Wi-Fi onboard for $8, but it was basically worthless. The connection was almost unbearably slow and it took almost half the flight to complete a speed test just to prove how slow it really was.
Overall, I’d say I had a decent flight to Las Vegas. The crew was excellent and even had an impromptu celebration on board for a passenger who’d turned 97 the day of the flight! The flight attendants were all very attentive and quick to accommodate anything I asked for.
That being said, given the cost of this flight, I think I’d look for a different carrier to take me to Sin City in the future.
Have you flown Southwest recently? Tell us about it, below.
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