Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How the 'other' half flies

My wife and I had a great trip to Las Vegas. We both lost a lot of money....but had a great time with our friends. Being able to travel whenever/where ever is the best perk I can think of. Which really came in handy.

The flight out to Vegas was fine. We were able to snag first class seats on the first flight out.

The trip was fine. I turned one year older while losing money at various casinos. We really enjoyed ourselves. Getting back home today was interesting.

When we looked at the loads (passenger loads) last week they looked good....like we would have no problem getting home. Last night we looked and saw 50+ employee standby travelers and oversold/full flights. Uh oh.

My wife is used to non-rev travel so we both began looking at options. We both have T-Mobile G1 smart phones so we were hammering away at ways to get home. The initial route was Vegas to Northern California to Southern California to home. The only problem was there were 50+ standbys on the first flight out of Southern California. They would roll over and end up being ahead of us on the standby list. The next option was Vegas to the mid-west to home. Problem was the flights were full/oversold with a few standbys. Things were looking dim.

I then thought about flying on an airline other than my own. I can jump seat on almost any carrier while my wife can ZED. ZED stands for Zonal Employee Discount. A ZED fare is a set amount of money for a set distance. The 'Z' is for Zonal. If the flight is equal to or less than the distance set for 1 zone it's a set fare. This price data is made up, but here is a ZED price structure:

1 1-450 $29

2 451-750 $35

3 751-1600 $40

4 1601-3200 $53

5 3201-4080 $60

6 4081-5000 $79

7 5001-6100 $83

8 6101-7100 $90

9 7101-9000 $110

Thus if the flight is 451 miles you pay the 2 zone rate. Not bad. ZED's are some of the last people on the stand by list as it's still standby travel. In a jam or as a back up plan it can really help.

I began looking at airlines flying out of Las Vegas and where they fly to non-stop.  I then looked at the loads for my airline out of each city. I finally found a non-stop flight from Vegas to Texas on Southwest airlines that we could then connect to a flight from my airline. I called the Southwest non-rev automated system and checked the flight loads. Things looked good. The flights on my airline were also good. I called my airline to setup the ZED ticket for my wife. The plan was set.

We left the hotel at 6AM and headed to the airport. I first had to buy the ZED ticket from my airline. The ticket counter was very busy. Thankfully an agent helped me out and within minutes we had the ZED ticket in hand.

After making our way to the Southwest ticket area, we printed out security documents that would get my wife through the TSA checkpoint. As a pilot, most TSA checkpoints don't require me to show anything more than my work ID.

We cleared security and then just had to wait. While waiting I checked us in for our connecting flight in Texas. Once the Southwest Airlines Las Vegas to Texas flight was listed on the TV monitor at the gate, I went up and finished the jump seat process. Southwest is awesome for jump seaters. I told the agent I was new to jump seating (until now I have only jumpseated on my own airlines). She explained everything I needed to do and after verifying my credentials against a national database, she handed me the boarding pass.

My wife was next. She went up and traded her ZED ticket for a boarding pass. Almost done.

Jump seating is a privilege. I waited by the gate to either be first on to ask the Captain for a ride or wait for him to come up and ask him for a ride. I saw him up at the doorway and politely asked for a ride. He examined my boarding pass and company ID. He then asked if I was traveling alone or with family. Once I told him I was with my wife he said to take a seat in the cabin and try to save a seat for her. Deal. I didn't really want the real jump seat.

I boarded early and took a seat in the back of the plane. The flight was supposed to be a little empty. Turns out it was totally full. My wife was one of the last to board. She took a seat next to me. I wasn't relaxed until we pushed back from the gate. I was fully expecting to be called to sit on the real jump seat. Didn't happen.


View from the back of a 737-300 on Southwest. Just past the Grand Canyon.

This was my first time flying on another airline other than my own in at least 4 years. I will say Southwest knows how to quickly load and unload a plane. The employees all seemed happy and truly cared about doing a good job. Not a bad place to work.


While reading the Southwest magazine I noticed they allow GPS devices to be used while flying (my airline does not). I fired up my GPS program on my phone (which waas in airplane mode!). We had a nice tailwind!

Once we landed I waited until all the passengers were off and then thanked the crew for the ride. My wife and I scurried through the terminal and boarded our flight home just 20 minutes after getting off the Southwest flight. Good timing.


Looking back on one of the Southwest planes that brought us 1/2 way home.

After we got home I checked the standby list for flights from Las Vegas. The standbys who were on the list this morning at 6AM were STILL waiting nearly 10 hours later! I don't see many getting home tonight. I'm glad we have to options of my jump seating and my wife using ZED. I'm only allowed to buy ZED passes for my wife, kids and parents. We will not hesitate to use Southwest again. Every employee we encountered was extremely helpful and truly happy to be there.

I'm back on airport standby tomorrow. Back to reality.


  1. I've also had amazingly good experiences with Southwest on transcontinental trips. They are always professional and courteous. I think the thing I like most about SWA are the crews and how nice they are.

  2. Do you have an iPhone? Looks like one in the pic. I am able to upgrade in September and have been waiting to get the iPhone from AT&T. If so, what GPS program do you use. So cool~ I grew up non revving... my father was a Captain with NWA... I miss it! Back in the day we had to wear coat and tie when we flew... I remember my father complaining about people wearing jeans and t shirts on his airplanes...

  3. No Iphone! It's a T-Mobile G1. I don't like the IPhone touchscreen only interface. The G1 has a touchscreen and a full size keyboard.

  4. what was the software?


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