Day 4 Nashville to Portland, via Southwest Airlines
Since the mention of using Southwest Airlines to transport people and bikes while touring generated a thread on the touring list (search for southwest on the searchable touring archives at www.phred.org) I am providing a 'ride' report on Southwest. To save suspense: the trip went well.
My flight was at 12:30 PM from Nashville, arriving in Portland at 6:30 PM.. It was listed in the Southwest website. www.iflyswa.com, as having 2 stops but no plane changes, and it was the only flight to Portland without plane changes. There were no direct flights from Nashville to Portland on any airline. I wanted as little baggage handling as possible for my bike, and this flight, since it was all on the same plane, was my best choice. It was also an economical choice.
I could have flown from Cincinnati to Portland on a direct Delta flight for about $500, including the $75 Delta would charge for my bike. Cincinnati is about fifty miles further from Asheville than Nashville, but, more importantly as it turns out, I would have had to ride there, but I was able to get a ride to Nashville with a friend. This didn't seem like a big deal when I was planning things, but it became a big deal when a bunch of bad weather moved into my area during the days before my flight. That would have been a miserable ride! The cost was also a factor.
Southwest lets you book one way flights - I'm bicycling back - and charges $40 per flight for a boxed bike. My Southwest flight cost me $275, including everything. The major drawback was that I had longer flight - my flight stopped in LA and Oakland - and that, on the Nashville to LA leg, it was packed and I ended up in a center seat between two large people and there were two crying babies in the seats directly behind me! Actually those four hours weren't as bad as they sound, and the other four hours were in a window seat with no one in the middle seat. Still, I spent about eight hours on the Southwest flight versus the five hours that I would have spent on the Delta flight. The extra time was compensated for by the friendliness of Southwest. All Southwest employees I dealt with, at the airports and on the plane, did a good job of keeping the atmosphere relaxed and friendly. I was impressed.
Before I got to Portland, I worried that there might be some problems with my checked luggage - my boxed bike and two panniers taped together with duct tape - but everything arrived promptly and there was no damage, even to the bike box. This was a better performance that I had with Delta last year, even discounting the horrible Delta clerk in Portland who really made my life miserable when I showed up with an un-boxed bike! Because of that experience, I brought my own bike box this year. I got it from Continental at Raleigh-Durham last month. It is a good sturdy box, but when I went to load it at the Nashville airport I discovered that it was a little smaller than the Delta box I used last year. As a result, I had to remove my seat and handle bar and I couldn't pack a set of panniers in the box. This caused me some minor panic at the airport, but everything worked out. Total damage - a bar of soap in an outer pocket of my Dopp kit was broken as was the glue holding the front end of my front fender to the hoop of my lowrider rack. I Gooped the fender and I'll just use the broken soap.
My fare was $225 . This seems to be normal for lots of long Southwest flights. It required an 14 day advanced purchase and was ticketless. If I had just shown up at the airport, and the flight was not full (the LA leg was full), I could have purchased a ticket for $315. These rates, especially the walk up rate, are much better than you can do with other airlines. If I were ending a tour near a city served by Southwest, I could be lot more relaxed about when I got there. Travel agents don't deal with Southwest, so you have to deal with Southwest directly, either in person, by phone, or on the net. I wish I had know about them last year when I flew from Portland to Nashville at the end of my tour. I would have saved money and not had to go through the misery caused me by that Delta clerk!