As travelers, we may become familiar with how the travel industry works — but only from one perspective, that of the consumer. Travel, for most of us, is something we squeeze into the in-betweens of our lives, the vacation days carefully saved and bundled, an opportunity now and then for an extended trip if we’re lucky. Hopping a flight and exploring a new place are exciting anomalies that pull us out of our day-to-day.
But for those working in the industry, travel is the day-to-day. Whether they’re flying the airplanes that get us to our destinations or ensuring those planes are stocked with provisions, the hard work of industry professionals makes it possible for the rest of us to enjoy travel as leisure. What is their perspective on travel? And what can the rest of us learn from their abundant experience?
We at Matador are extremely excited to have partnered with Southwest Airlines to create a four-part video series called “My City, My Heart.” The series introduces four different Southwest Airlines employees, each occupying a unique role in the operations of the award-winning company. We follow them on a tour of their hometowns, where they serve as local tour guides showing us their favorite spots — places most visitors might not know about.
In the same way, these Southwest employees share with us their insider tips for making the travel experience as pleasant as possible, whether on their airline or any other. Below, you can watch each of the videos as well as pick up some advice that just might change the way you travel.
Behind the curtain: What it’s like to work in travel
For us airline passengers, perhaps most of our curiosity is directed towards the people in the cockpit. What’s it really like to fly an airplane? According to Southwest First Officer Deidre, the job is just as epic as we’d imagine:
It’s definitely a different perspective, especially at nighttime. You can see how big a city is, like Chicago or LA. If there’s no cloud coverage, there’s lights beyond lights, especially up the coast. So it’s definitely a bird’s eye view, which is pretty neat. A lot of people don’t get to experience that. You can look out your passenger window, but you don’t get the full cockpit view, the surround of windows… [Clouds also] catch our eye, the big cumulonimbus clouds, [they’re] huge and you can just see them from miles on miles before you get to them.
Beyond the day-to-day of flying the plane, every once in a while a truly bizarre scenario pops up:
Southwest [partnered] with the San Diego Zoo, [and] we got to fly a couple penguins from San Diego to Denver, and got to watch them walk off the airplane and up the jetway…with the zookeepers. It was a very amazing experience.
As with any job, however, it’s not all dramatic views and cute zoo animals. Southwest Flight Attendant Javier doesn’t shy away from talking about the challenges of his job. But those challenges are balanced by his love for the work, which comes through in his advice for anyone thinking of becoming a flight attendant:
You have to be aware that you’ll be away from home for a good amount of time…. We operate 365 days a year, all day, and that means Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easters, baptism, first steps, may be missed. But hang in there. I would say within the first year, you pretty much know if it’s for you or not. But after that, it’s an amazing, amazing career with tons of flexibility. So I would say definitely be patient, give it a chance, and keep an open mind. And you’ll see that with time, it only gets [easier].
Ask the experts: Travel tips
Javier has tried-and-true tips for us passengers, too, including items that he never leaves home without:
You never know if an aircraft cabin is going to feel chilly, so I always recommend that friends and family bring a sweater, jacket, or even a blanket if they have room for it in their carry-on bag, even if it’s 100 degrees outside! A couple of other items that are must-haves for me when I travel are headphones and snacks. A little bite to eat along with my favorite tunes helps get my mind in the right place for what’s to come — whether I’m starting an exciting vacation or relaxing as I head back home.
But what about before you even get to the airport? It all starts with how you pack your bag — and bags are something Southwest Ground Operations Agent Bevin knows a lot about. He’s the one who checks you in for your flight and takes your suitcase in the terminal. His advice? Even though bags fly free on Southwest, try not to take one!
When you go on a trip, just try to pack as light as possible. You don’t want to be struggling with bags, checking in bags, pulling the bags up to the gate…. [There are multiple] ways of checking in, but for me, I know I would…just check-in online, [print] my boarding pass, and then just go straight to TSA. It’s much easier.
Okay, you’re checked in, through security, and now you’re at your gate. It’s getting close to boarding time, and you’re presented with that ultimate human psychological quandary: Do you stand, or do you sit?
Just sit tight, relax, enjoy the scenery, the music of your own zone with your headphones in. Just watch those kiosks, make sure you’re not missing your boarding part. Because if you stand up, you’re just going to bump into others…. So sit as long as you can.
Once you’re on board a Southwest flight, no one knows more about what you’ll encounter there than Provisioning Agent Angie. It’s her job to ensure each plane is fully stocked with all the beverages, snacks, and other amenities that make flying that much more comfortable. But her tip for the best complimentary in-flight item no one knows about may surprise you:
Probably the free text messaging. I’m not sure a lot of people know that you can send iMessages or go through WhatsApp to send text[s] to people on the ground while you’re in flight.
Now you’ve landed, and maybe you’re dealing with a long layover. What to do? This is one scenario Javier deals with all the time. Here’s his tip:
I like to do my research and see what’s going on. One thing that I use often is the Facebook Events section. I’ll check out what’s happening that current day, and I can find out a lot of information. Whether it’s a concert, a show, a festival, or anything going on, that’s how I’ve been doing it lately…I’ve done it all. I’ve gone to theater, I’ve gone to concerts, I’ve rented a car and gone to wine country in Arizona, or California, Temecula. I’ve gone to Snoqualmie Falls out of Seattle, when I have a long overnight. I’ve been on the water in Seattle. So yeah, depending on where I am and how long it is, I love to just do anything that I can. Especially be outside.
The inside scoop: Working at Southwest
Southwest is often cited as having one of the most, if not the most, satisfied workforces in the industry. The airline’s people-first approach isn’t reserved for paying customers. That’s what Flight Attendant Javier appreciates more than anything else about his job:
What I love most about Southwest Airlines is that Southwest Airlines allows me to be the flight attendant that I want to be. I can be funny, I can be caring, I can be mischievous at times…. All of course within taste and playfulness with our passengers. So that’s what I love about Southwest, is that I’m able to be who I am freely and happily, in the name of customer service and making everyone feel welcomed and at home.
To sum it up, let’s go back to Angie: “Everybody knows how great of a company the place is to work for, and it truly is.” There you have it — the experts have spoken. Happy travels everyone!