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In a summer of extremely full flights I found myself on a Southwest 737 with just 9 passengers

July 27, 2022
4 min read
In a summer of extremely full flights I found myself on a Southwest 737 with just 9 passengers
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If you've traveled anywhere since about March, you probably know what to expect: full flights, delays and cancellations, lost luggage and long lines. We've all seen the photos of mountains of unclaimed bags, snaking airport checkpoint queues and crowded airport gates. The process of flying hasn't been a whole lot of fun in recent months.

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I've been traveling regularly since the start of the year, and I'd given up hope of the small luxuries of yesteryear, such as lucking into sitting next to an empty middle seat. With some extra patience at the ready --- and lots of tricks and tools of the trade (like TSA PreCheck and carrying credit cards that get me priority boarding) -- I've been mostly fine. But like a lot of travelers, flying these days has added a bit more stress to the trip experience.

Last week, when I was flying home to Baltimore on Southwest Airlines, my first leg from Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) to Nashville International Airport (BNA), operated on a Boeing 737-700, was completely full. The second leg, from Nashville to Tampa, was more of the same. That's become the norm — Southwest, for example, had said that it expected its planes to be somewhere between 85-87% full between April and June.

But then, something different happened. You could almost call it an aviation miracle.

My third and final flight home (yes, I took the long way home as I'm racking up flight segments to requalify for Southwest A-List status), had just nine passengers — on a Boeing 737-800 built for 175.

(Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)

Sure, these almost empty planes were common for a period of time in the spring of 2020, but this was different.

While those flights seemed eerie due to their absence of humanity, this flight, for me, was just a joyful change of pace in a season of packed-to-the-brim passenger loads.

Related: These are the best credit cards for getting Global Entry and PreCheck

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Between giggling and joyfully smiling over having a few entire rows to myself, I asked the crew if there was any specific reason for this "almost private" 737. They seemed as surprised as me and didn't know exactly what caused it.

We did know that after flying this light load, the plane would be overnighting at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) before starting early for its next day's worth of flights. That's probably why the airline didn't cancel it altogether; Southwest needed the plane at BWI for the next day.

And while recently there have been more delayed aircraft than usual and most flights are flying with very high load factors (a high percentage of available seats filled with passengers), there are exceptions to every rule.

This third and final flight home for me was a perfect example of being prepared for the worst -- and then enjoying the heck out of the moment when it became clear this flight was going to be quite the treat.

Boarding took all of five minutes and I literally had a whole section of the plane to myself.

I was able to sit in the window seat during takeoff. There was space in the overhead bin for my carry-on luggage and my backpack, which meant I could stretch my legs. I could spread out my iPad on one tray table and put other things on the seat and tray next to me. And finally, I knew that deplaning was going to be a total breeze, especially since I was in row 2.

For those two glorious hours in the sky, there we all were, marveling at the sight of an almost empty flight home.

We took off, enjoyed a brief drink service, then sat back and enjoyed the ride.

In this season of sometimes stressful travel, it was a delightful respite indeed.

Featured image by (Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
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  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
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  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
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  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023