Southwest Airlines Domestic Coach Sacramento to San Diego (and back)


I left about 10:00am with another cohort from the office. From our company the Sacramento airport is a 30-minute drive (no traffic) and mid-day flights are nice in that you can tie up loose ends before heading out of town on business.

Introduction: Southwest and San Diego
Review: Southwest Airlines Domestic Coach Sacramento to San Diego (and back)
Review: Hotel Del Coronado – Ocean Towers Coastal View Room
Review: Delta Sky Club San Diego International Airport – Terminal 2

Upon reaching the airport we parked in the main garage. We had bags to check and neither Edward or I have status with Southwest. Regardless, check in went smooth and we soon found ourselves at the gate.

check-inSouthwest check-in at Terminal B

people-moverPeople mover


Southwest Airlines 1039
Sacramento (SMF) – San Diego (SAN)
Monday April 25th, 2016
Departure Time: 12:30pm
Arrival Time: 1:55pm
Flight Time: 1hr25min
Aircraft: Boeing 737-700
Seat 6A, Short Haul Domestic Coach

Southwest doesn’t have assigned seating and it’s a first come first serve affair. Edward and I both had “EarlyBird” check-in and so our boarding passes were A22 and A24 respectively. EarlyBird seating costs $15.00 per flight and automatically checks you T-24 hours beforehand so that you have a decent seat (compared to those who won’t fork over $15.00). We worked our way onto the flight and settled down in 6A and 6C. I had the window. Edward gets a little fidgety and didn’t want to be on the isle with 3 persons on our bench, so he bailed and went back further to take a guaranteed window seat. Of course, the middle seat was never taken.

our-flight-today-rOur flight today

cabin-01Coming on board

cabin-02Benches of blue and tan

cabin-03Smiling Southeast Flight Attendant

seat-01Single seat

knee-roomKnee room

seat-backSeat back

retractionRetraction of jetway

big-goldOld Southwest livery on this flight

Having an open middle seat is bonus material on any coach carrier, but it especially sweet on a Southwest flight. I was hoping Edward got one as well. Door close was scheduled for 12:30pm and we did so 1 minute early. 10 minutes later we had position on the runway and were taking off. I enjoyed the gold aircraft engine in my photos against the agriculture views out of Sacramento.

climb-outViews of local farms

valley-viewSacramento Valley

forward-cabinLooking forward

side-viewSide view – that could have been you Ed

About 15 minutes into the flight the flight attendant asked if we wanted anything to drink and would we like some peanuts. I ordered a club soda and accepted the snack. The Southwest flight attendants don’t use a trolley but instead hand carry trays as they bring drink orders to the passengers. I personally like this style of service as it leaves the isles open if access is needed.

tableSouthwest coach table


One of the items I wanted to review on this flight was Southwest’s inflight entertainment. I’m not talking about the cheeky pre-flight safety announcements they make – I’m talking about the WiFi delivered entertainment service available on many, but not all Southwest flights. Southwest usually emails you a few days before your flight, and indicates that WiFi and in-flight TV will be available, and that the TV service is free. After enjoying my peanuts and club soda, I hopped on the inflight WiFi to check out the services.

WiFi is offered for flight texting at $2 or full access for $8. TV access is free, and this includes a couple map and inflight information items as well. The offering is decent, and from my experience on this flight everything worked pretty well. You can also rent movie for $5. On a short haul flight like Sacramento to San Diego this isn’t very useful, but on a long haul flight such as Las Vegas to the east coast this could be really useful. The movie selection was current enough with an ample selection.

I find this service very interesting. Southwest is the daddy of LCCs and as such an LCC airline doesn’t typically offer any in-flight entertainment because of the cost of equipment and maintaining it. Southwest has ingeniously figured a solution for this by offering it on the in-plane WiFi service (they are not the only ones doing this, and I’m guessing they are not the first). System maintenance is keep at a minimum, and for the modern traveler willing to use the service with their own device there are a lot of options.


tv-email-rSouthwest email before the flight

phone-008Offer for inflight WiFi

phone-002Movie cost

phone-3Movie info

phone-004Info on inflight beverages


I didn’t know this

phone-009Upfront interface

phone-014TV offering

phone-001Pre TV setup

tv-01Show capture

phone-010Inflight information

phone-012Another useful screen of inflight information

At this point I had enjoyed my snack of peanuts and club soda and was playing around with, and watching, the inflight TV that Southwest offers. Shortly later our flight was approaching the greater San Diego area. The coast is beautiful to look at. For those of you who haven’t flown into the San Diego airport the approach patterns come in directly over the city. If you have a window seat this makes for a visually interesting show.

coastSouthern California coast



almostAlmost there

After landing we got to the gate at 1:55pm, exactly on time. On emerging into Terminal 1 of the San Diego Airport I had forgotten what a zoo the Southwest terminal is. It the most jammed, inhospitable boarding area of any airport I have ever visited. I try not to be to critical, but their area of this airport really should be an embarrassment to Southwest Airlines.

Leaving the airside terminal is also a little funky when coming from the Southwest section. You take an escalator down and are emptied directly into the TSA security boarding section. From there you go right and have a small side hall that empties into baggage and curbside.

san-d-terminalTerminal 1, Southwest area

esclator-bottomBottom of the escalators

access-side-walkFunny side hall exit

sd-apLandside terminal 1

After finishing 2 day of business I was traveling home with 2 office associates, Edward (from my flight to San Diego) and John. We all had different meetings that morning and meet at the airport at 11:30am. Check in and security went without issue and we decided to have lunch in airside terminal 1. The southwest area was a zoo again, and we decided on a burger shop and ate a hurried lunch. Without belaboring the point, the southwest area of terminal 1 is terrible.

Shortly later we boarded our plane together. Our boarding passes were A33, A34 and John had A09 as he had purchased a last minute Southwest Business Select ticket. We decided to sit together on the plane and I offered to sit in the middle seat. It was a short flight and I figured it wouldn’t hurt to do so. Because of my seat location on the plane, and the discussion of business with Ed and John, I didn’t detail much on this segment.

I will report that I noticed a sign at our gate counter offering to purchase an upgraded boarding number out of the Business select category. I checked on cost and it was $40, which I didn’t personally think was worth the money even had I been traveling alone. I do think the EarlyBird check-in option is a must when traveling as a Southwest non-elite (cost $15.00).

Door close and push back occurred 1 minute late. In another 15 minutes we were accelerating down the runaway and taking off over San Diego.

Southwest Airlines 3826
San Diego (SAN) – Sacramento (SMF)
Wednesday April 27th, 2016
Departure Time: 1:25pm
Arrival Time: 2:55pm
Flight Time: 1hr30min
Aircraft: Boeing 737-700
Seat 5B, Short Haul Domestic Coach


terminal-sdTerminal 1 is still a mess

upgrade-noticeA1-A15 upsell


plane-doorGoing in

our-flight-rOur flight today

side-viewSide view

cabinLooking forward

I’ve been flying southwest for years as it really connects California. If there was such a thing as a California regional, they would have the network for it. In fact, their network goes everywhere in the US with the exception of the northwest and Hawaii. Their point to point structure in the lower 48 is unmatched by any other carrier.

Service is typically always good. It is not the wonderful treatment on an international first class experience, but it is very very very consistently good coach service for an LCC. There are the exceptions as with any airline, but really the majority of Southwest flight attendants are great. Service consists of peanuts and a drink, and I find them better than most other carriers at keeping the cabin clean of trash.

in-smfGate mate at SMF

Our flight landed and deplaned 1 minute early. John and Ed were good company, and I may have dozed off for a few minutes. Another text book short haul Southwest flight.

It wasn’t long before I again found myself on another Southwest Airlines Sacramento to San Diego roundtrip flight. This time it was mostly for fun, and it was last minute in planning.

After a 30-minute drive I arrived at terminal B at Sacramento Airport. The flight was leaving from gate B14 and my boarding pass was A41. The incoming flight was 20 minutes late, and we boarded about 10 minutes late.

 waiting-b14Waiting to board

b14-counterCounter for B16 and B14 terminal B

coming-in-2Coming in

our-rideGetting ready jetway-outJetway in

Once on board I settled into 5F. Seating in coach on any airline is such a crap shoot, and with Southwest you see it played out in real time. Sure enough a gentleman who had a chest as wide as Knute Rockne settled in the middle seat between myself and 5D. I scrunched up against the window – you win some and some you don’t.

Southwest Airlines 3566
Sacramento (SMF) – San Diego (SAN)
Wednesday June 22nd, 2016
Departure Time: 2:05pm
Arrival Time: 3:30pm
Flight Time: 1hr25min
Aircraft: Boeing 737-700
Seat 5F, Short Haul Domestic Coach


our-flight-r1Our flight today

seat-buttsForward view of blue and tan

seat-backSeat back

knee-roomKnee room

cabin-forward-3Forward view

Door close and push back came 14 minutes late. Better than I was expecting given how late the incoming flight was. It was a clear and beautiful day, and even in my squished position against the window I enjoyed my flight. It’s always difficult to get quality pictures from an iPhone6S-plus through an airplane window, but today it seemed a little easier. Service, peanuts and club soda all were very similar to the preceding flights in this report. Before long we made our landing in San Diego.

getting-readyPush back

alaskaHello smiling Eskimo

climbing-on-out-2American and Sacramento River confluence

into-sdSouthern California

close-sdLove the approach into San Diego

runwayAlmost there

Despite our late departure we made it to the gate only 8 minutes late, which again I thought was pretty good. Southwest has such an extensive operation I’m surprised there as good as they are (this summer’s technical melt downs aside). Exit from the plane was smooth and I was landside quickly.

sd-gate-4Oh yea, terminal 1 in San Diego

pickupBaggage area Terminal 1 San Diego

From the Airport I proceeded directly to a meeting with friends. Scott, Lee and I decided to get together to meet a friend from Rome who happened to be in town (Victor). We enjoyed Herb and Wood for dinner and I can’t recommend this place enough. The evening went long and the pours were many. We mostly behaved ourselves.

The next morning the four of us enjoyed a quick breakfast and said our goodbyes. Scott and I went to the airport at together and stayed at the Delta Sky Club in Terminal 2 until our flights left. I had purchased a “Business Select” flight for an additional $22.00 and thought my boarding order would be about A10. Much to my surprise I received position A1. I’ve never seen that before.

term-1-to-2Leaving terminal 2 for terminal 1

sd-checkinSouthwest check-in San Diego

a-01-r4The holy grail of Southwest boarding positions

tswtSouthwest boarding terminal 1 – did I mention this place is a zoo?

almost-epPosition A1 gave me the opportunity of an almost empty cabin picture

bench-3The bench of Tan and Blue looks pretty good

thrownSingle coach seat

the-benchOne other shot

cabin-forwardSeat 7F looking forward

I took my window seat 7F and waited for the seating lottery gods to play their hand. Even position A1 requires the wait and see outcome. A young lady that could have modeled for Vogue sat in 7D. Well, there goes my chance of an empty middle seat. Someone will choose to sit next to her. I was resolved to having another full bench on the way home when the most curious thing happened; no one took the middle seat. First position A1 and then an open middle seat – the gods had looked favorably on me today!

Southwest Airlines 3144
San Diego (SAN) – Sacramento (SMF)
Thursday June 23rd, 2016
Departure Time: 1:25pm
Arrival Time: 2:55pm
Flight Time: 1hr30min
Aircraft: Boeing 737-700
Seat 7F, Short Haul Domestic Coach


our-flightOur flight today

loadingLoading up

prepDown the runway

Door close was 8 minutes late, and it too another 20 minutes to get airborne. I was feeling a little tired from our evening of drinking, dining and talking. For service I ordered hot coffee and cream, with peanuts. The coffee was very good and a hat tip to Southwest for offering a quality product in this category. Why they don’t offer actual cream instead of Coffee Mate I’m not sure, as I would think cost wouldn’t be that different. Perhaps spoilage is an issue.

From some reason Flight Aware didn’t have the actual route home, but a good portion of the initial flight was over the Pacific and the coast. The views were beautiful. I was able to capture a couple good pics, drink my coffee and get some work done on the Southwest WiFi.

The flight was finished quickly and we came into Sacramento a little behind schedule.

out-and-overThe coast looked great

waterThe pacific was a beautiful blue

knee-roomKnee room

chair-backSeat back

coffee-and-penutesCoffee, coffee mate and peanuts

clipInflight iPhone display

Once we landed and got to the gate we were 20 minutes late total, which is more than acceptable on a midday Southwest flight. I retrieved my car at the parking garage and stopped by the office on the way home. Everything was good.

When I got some from seeing my friends Susan wanted know how the evening with the guys went. My response was “Great”, and “I can’t wait to take you to Herb and Wood for dinner in San Diego”. She then asked about the flight home and I told the lucky story of not having someone in the middle seat. A few moments later she repeated me, “She looked like a Vogue model huh?” “Yes” I said, “A real looker.” “Humm, did you talk to her” was Susan’s next question?

“Not a syllable dear, not a syllable.”

In Summary:

If you’re a serious traveler in the US, you should always consider Southwest as an option for some, or even all your itinerary. Is it the most comfortable coach airline, no. But as one of my friends put it, it has the luxury of the direct flight on so many routes. And for many people, getting in and out of the plane in the most expeditious manner is the ultimate luxury.

For my two trips the four different southwest flights made the most sense by far. They were direct flights, with numerous daytime departure times and on a very dependable airline. It’s tough to beat that combination. But even with those positive attributes there were other features that made the travel solid. The leather seats with 32-33″ of pitch offers considerable leg room for coach (except the 737-700 which is 31″). Inflight WiFi with integrated TV as an entertainment option is a fairly sophisticated feature. Drinks are average, and food is lacking but not much of an issue on a short haul flight.

I think the most disappointing item of all four trips was the Southwest area in terminal 1 of the San Diego airport. This place is dumpy on good days and looks like a mob scene on most. Overcrowding, outdated architecture and crummy food options with few places to eat just doesn’t cut when compared to most other facilities. The Southwest portion of terminal B in Sacramento looks great, and Southwest has no excuse for San Diego in this regard.

On balance it’s fantastic to have the southwest flight options when considering travel. My four flights in this report went comfortably and without major issue. If you can book in advance on one of Southwest’s numerous sales, you’re going to pick a bargain price for your travels.

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